Antonio Dovale scored Bengaluru FC’s first ever hat-trick in Asian competition (12’, 35’ and 48’) as the Blues ran roughshod over Maldivian side TC Sports Club, beating them 5-0 (8-2 on aggregate) and booking a place in the AFC Cup Group stages at the Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Tuesday night. Erik Paartalu marked the occasion with an outrageous left-footed volley (36’) from 40-yards out and Rahul Bheke added a fifth (90’) late in the game in what was also the Blues’ biggest ever win the AFC Cup. The Blues join I-League side Aizawl FC, Maldives’ New Radiant SC and Abahani Dhaka from Bangladesh in Group E of the continental competition, which commences on March 7th with an away clash against the reigning Indian champions.
Having conceded three goals at home, the Maldivian side had to chase the game from the first minute. But Dovale’s early screamer left the visitors with a mountain to climb. Picking the ball from Udanta Singh, the Spaniard had one look at goal before letting fly into the top corner from distance, stretching the aggregate to 4-2.
Sensing panic in the TCS camp, Bengaluru began attacking with more flair. Thongkhosiem Haokip sent in a low cross that was just wide of Alwyn George in the box before Dovale and Udanta then came close in quick succession.
The Blues wanted to put the game to bed before half-time and two goals in two minutes, including a jaw-dropping 40-yard hit from Paartalu, seemed to have got the job done. Dovale’s second came after Paartalu headed a Subhasish Bose throw-in to the winger who tapped home with ease. It was Paartalu’s turn only a minute later and the Australian turned up with a moment of magic when he struck a TCS clearance on the volley that found its way into the back of the net to make it 3-0 on the night.
Walking into the second half with an aggregate score of 6-2, Bengaluru were in no mood for mercy. It took just three minutes after the restart for Dovale to make the match-ball his after he was set up brilliantly by Udanta. The youngster blitzed past the TCS defence down the right and played as perfect a cut-back as they come, leaving Dovale to finish from close and bag his hat-trick.
The night got worse for the Maldivian side when defender Alaaeldin Elmagraby received marching orders for a deliberate body check on Udanta. He had earlier been booked in the first half. Making the man advantage count, the Blues pushed forward for the fifth and almost found one with Bheke’s header hitting the upright. The fifth goal came eventually as a corner fell kindly for Bheke following a scramble in the box, and the defender made no mistake, finishing into the roof past a hapless TC Sports Club ‘keeper.
The Blues next travel to Bhubaneshwar, where they face Jamshedpur FC in an Indian Super League clash at the Kalinga Stadium on Sunday.