A 10-man Bengaluru FC saw their dreams of a consecutive AFC Cup final come crashing down after a 2-2 draw against FC Istiklol (3-2 on aggregate) on a night at the Kanteerava marred by dubious refereeing decisions. The Blues needed to win by a two-goal margin to repeat the history once again.
The Blues went behind in the 4th minute to a decision of a penalty that never was after replays showed no contact between ’keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Fathuloev Fathullo. The hosts then pulled one back when Rahul Bheke headed home his first goal (24’) for the Blues. In what was a massive blow to the comeback effort, defender Harmanjot Khabra picked up a second booking just before half-time, reducing Bengaluru to ten-men.
Albert Roca made two changes to the starting XI with striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia and defender Harmanjot Khabra replacing Antonio Dovale and Collin Abranches from the team that took the pitch in Dushanbe.
Needing a win by a two-goal margin to progress, Bengaluru got off to a horror start when Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was penalized by referee Khamis Al-Marri for an apparent foul on Fathullo, to point to the spot in the 2nd minute. However, replays clearly showed a blatant dive from the
Backed by a vociferous home support, the Blues went on an onslaught with the skipper pulling the strings from the left. First, he cut in from the left and hammered a low shot which was kept out by Istiklol ’keeper Nicola Stosic in the 6th minute before he sent a perfect through ball to Dimas down the middle which the Spaniard couldn’t capitalize on. Moments later, the skipper dribbled past three defenders from the left before once again being denied by the rival custodian.
Midway through the half, Daniel capitalized on a miss-pass by David Mawutor and fired a grounder which was cleared for a corner by the Stosic.
But given the pressure the Blues were piling on, an equaliser was always in the coming. A corner played short saw Udanta send a cross in the box that Bheke nodded home to make it 1-1 in the 24th minute. Bengaluru almost took the lead in the game at the
The Blues kept the pressure on, creating chance after chance as
Needing two more goals to make it through, Bengaluru began pushing up right from the word go despite being a man down. Eight minutes in, Roca made the first change, throwing in attacker Antonio Dovale in place of midfielder Lenny Rodrigues.
The Blues were dealt another blow in the 56th minute when Dmitrii Barkov tapped in from close range breaking the offside trap to put Istiklol 2-1 up on the night.
Bengaluru went close to levelling the scores once
Minutes later, Bengaluru FC did pull level when the referee penalized Oleksandr Stetsenko for bringing down Daniel in the box after Dovale had played him through. Chhetri stepped up and made no mistake from the spot to make it 2-2 in the 65th minute.
With the visitors opting for time-wasting tactics, the supporters in the stands were making their frustration known along with the Blues’ bench. Into the final quarter, Roca made two more changes bringing in Alwyn George and Boithang Haokip in place of Daniel and Nishu Kumar.
The Blues continued to put bodies up front creating
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