A Sunil Chhetri moment of magic, one like he’s produced ever so often in high-stake games, sent Bengaluru FC to the knock-out stages of the AFC Cup for a third straight season when the Blues beat Maziya S&RC 1-0 at the Kanteerava Stadium, on Wednesday.
Chhetri’s goal in the 57th minute, an elegant free kick from 20 yards out after Juanan Gonzalez was brought down, took Bengaluru level on points (12) with Group E leaders Maziya but sent the Federation Cup champions through by virtue of a better head-to-head record over the Maldivian side.
The talismanic skipper, who had his Federation Cup campaign cut short in the group stages with a muscle injury, handed the Bengaluru camp a massive boost when he was announced fit to play by Roca at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday. And Chhetri showed the tricks he brings to parties like these with a sweetly hit take.
Earlier, the Blues had a lucky escape in the 17th minute when Aleksandar Rakic saw his header from an Ali Samooh cross crash into the post. But that chance apart, The Maldivian side didn’t care to venture into Bengaluru’s attacking third, choosing to firmly park the bus instead.
In what was a frustrating first half for Bengaluru, Roca’s men created a host of half chances but Maziya, defending in numbers, did just about enough to keep danger at bay and keep it goalless at half time.
Needing a goal to keep hopes of qualifying alive, Maziya threw numbers in attack and almost conceded on the counter from the Blues as Lyngdoh set up Daniel through with only the ’keeper to beat but the striker lost his footing and possession with it.
The Blues made sure to run the clock down by clinging onto the ball as much as possible, progressing from the group stages of the AFC Cup for a third consecutive season, this time to go on and take part in the South Zone Inter Zone Playoff Semifinal.