Bengaluru suffers 0-1 loss to Istiklol in AFC cup

Dmitry Barkov's excellent header in the 27th minute proved the difference on the day, but Istiklol will no doubt be disappointed for not having won by a bigger margin for it was clearly the better side.

Sunil Chhetri’s shot off the rebound appeared to be handled but the referee turned down Bengaluru's appeal.   -  Special Arrangement

FC Istiklol beat Bengaluru FC (BFC) 1-0 in the first leg of the inter-zonal final at the Hisor Central Stadium, in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, on Wednesday.

Dmitry Barkov's excellent header in the 27th minute proved the difference on the day, but Istiklol will no doubt be disappointed for not having won by a bigger margin for it was clearly the better side. BFC can also thank goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu as he denied Istiklol twice with fine saves on either side of the break.

The visiting side survived an incessant onslaught from FC Istiklol, the 2015 champion, but the home side’s profligacy in front of goal saved Bengaluru from losing the match by a bigger margin.

Dmitry Barkov scored the only goal of the match in the 27th minute at the Hisor Central Stadium.

For most part of the match, Bengaluru was left to defend their citadel and the matter got worse as the backline of Albert Roca’s side committed several mistakes.

Interestingly, Bengaluru dominated the possession (63 per cent) but it could not string together a dangerous goal-scoring opportunity throughout the match. Bengaluru had two shots at target while Istiklol had seven.

Winger Udanta Singh had a fine run down the flank early in the match and then Lenny Rodrigues had a chance to test the Istiklol goalkeeper from a free kick. But after that it was Istiklol who dictated terms on it opponent.

Action remained at the Bengaluru half for most part of the match and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu had to make a few fine saves to keep the score at 1-0 in favour of Istiklol.

Bengaluru’s defence did better in the second half and there were not many shots from Istiklol as compared to the first session.

There was a vociferous appeal for a handball at the end of the regulation time with BFC players claiming that skipper Sunil Chhetri’s shot off the rebound was handled. But the referee was unmoved.

“We played very well in the second half and I think we deserved a goal," said Chhetri. "But it’s only one goal and we have all to play for in the second leg at home.”

Bengaluru now hosts Istiklol in the second leg on October 18.

Bengaluru had beaten 4.25 SC of North Korea 3-0 on aggregate in the Inter-Zone Semifinals.

The winner between Bengaluru and Istiklol will face defending champion and West Zone Finals winner Air Force Club of Iraq in the grand finale on November 4.

This year’s final will be played at the home venue of the Inter-Zone Finals winner. So, if Bengaluru make it to the grand finale, it will be played in Bengaluru.

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