Bengaluru: The Sree Kanteerava Stadium was slowly starting to feel the jitters, as the hour mark drew near, when Junan was brought down just outside the box by Abdulla Asadhulla.
The mood shift was as stark as it was immediate. Expectancy weighed heavily on Sunil Chhetri’s shoulder as he stepped up to take the free-kick. With one swing of his gifted right foot, crisp and precise, the captain, who was never expected to play due to a hamstring injury much less start, decided the match.
The ball had barely struck the net on the top left corner, Chhetri had his hand outstretched. He knew it the moment the ball left his feet.
Cometh the moment, cometh the man. It took just one goal but it was dominant show as Bengaluru FC saw out a resolute Maziya S&RC in their final AFC Cup Group E tie.
They needed a win to secure their spot in the inter-zonal playoff semifinals and as they have done many times before, Bengaluru FC found a way to continue their Asian journey.
There were early promises that it would be an entertaining match. The clock had barely struck five minutes when C.K Vineeth and Harmanjot Khabra linked up well on the right allowing the former to roll a cross which flashed across the face of goal.
There was action at the other end as well with Ali Samooh, one of the visitors’ best attacking outlet, sweeping forward with the ball from the back and finding Yasfaadh Habeeb who pulled his effort just wide.
BFC attack in waves
BFC attacked, a sea of blue amidst the green, in waves but Maziya, led by their centre halves Andrei Cordos and Milos Kovacevic, stood unmoved and more often than not untroubled. The towering Cordos was also key in the visiting side’s attack as he carried the ball from the back to start the attacks.
Marjan Sekulovski’s men almost took the lead in the 18th minute. The industrious Samooh was again the architect as his lofted cross was headed against the upright by Aleksandar Rakic after escaping the attention of Sandesh Jhingan.
BFC, for their part, dominated possession. Roca had the fullbacks Nishu Kumar and Khabra pushing up to the final third forcing Maziya to play with a back six while allowing the midfielders to control the game although they often struggled to find the final ball.
The captain then did what he does best in the 57th minute with a curling free-kick to put his side in the lead.
The travelling team could have levelled six minutes later but Ali Ashadh inexplicably found a way to stroke his shot wide from inside the area with Nishu, John Johnson and Jhingan all on the deck.
In the bid to secure the win, Roca brought on Rino Anto and Lenny Rodrigues to shore up the match while taking off Chhetri to a well deserved ovation from the crowd. For a team that was haunted by rotten luck throughout their campaign, this felt like a turn in fortunes....