A heavily-rested and young Bengaluru FC squad went down fighting 3-1 to Mohun Bagan AC in a Group E fixture of the AFC Cup, at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, in Kolkata, on Wednesday. With only one team progressing to the knock-out stages, the Blues will need nothing but a win against Maziya S&RC when the two sides meet on May 31st after the Maldivian side beat Abahani Dhaka 2-0 in the group’s other fixture on the day.
Group E had new leaders after Maziya’s win over Abahani took them to 12 points, while the Blues dropped to second (9 points). But while a win at the Kanteerava on the 31st will leave both teams tied on points, Bengaluru FC’s superior head to head record against Maziya, will mean passage for Albert Roca’s men to the next round. Earlier in April, the Blues traveled to Maldives and came away with a 1-0 win.
With an eye on Sunday’s Federation Cup final against Bagan, Bengaluru made the trip to Kolkata without Amrinder Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Juanan Gonzalez, Lenny Rodrigues, Cameron Watson and Udanta Singh. Defenders John Johnson and Harmanjot Khabra meanwhile, missed the fixture owing to suspensions as Keegan Pereira captained a side that had an average age of just twenty three.
Despite a bright Bengaluru start where Daniel Lalhlimpuia heaved his shot woefully high from close early on, the Blues fell behind in the 10th minute when Raynier Fernandes’ chip over the defence met Jeje Lalpekhlua’s run before the striker calmly slotted past Lalthuammawia Ralte.
Doungel then had a fantastic chance in the 24th minute when he picked Vineeth’s headed pass, shook off two Bagan defenders only to see his shot on target kept out by Shilton Paul.
But the Blues striker made amends seven minutes into the second half. Collecting the ball ten yards outside the box, Doungel sent in a rasping drive that Paul couldn’t do anything about, to make it 1-1. Vineeth then had the chance to hand the Blues a lead in the 55th minute when he found himself through on goal with a fantastic pass, but his shot to beat Paul was weak and straight at the ’keeper.
Bengaluru went behind for a second time in the game although with a hint of bad luck. Kean Lewis’ shot at Ralte took a heavy deflection, off Gursimrat Singh’s heel, before bouncing and looping over a stranded ’keeper on its way in. The hosts then had a strike from outside the box of their own when Bikramjit Singh Sr. connected cleanly to make it 3-1 to the hosts. Bengaluru’s final chance of the evening came when substitute Rino Anto’s cross in the last minute of regulation time was tipped over off the crossbar by Paul.
Roca’s second half changes included Anto and Lalchhuanmawia who played their first minutes for the Blues this season after having recovered from injuries.
Bengaluru now make the trip back to Cuttack, where they face Sanjoy Sen’s side a sixth time this season, in the summit clash of the Federation Cup, on Sunday.