India captain Sunil Chhetri led Bengaluru FC to a historic AFC Cup final by scripting an inspiring 3-1 win over defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim with his stunning double strike, in Bangalore on Wednesday.
Bengaluru made it to the final by virtue of superior aggregate goal difference of 4-2. The first leg in Malaysia ended in a 1-1 draw.
It is a historic day for Indian football as no club from the country has ever made it to the summit clash of the prestigious second-tier continental tournament.
After the Malaysian team went ahead with Shafiq Rahim’s 11th minute goal, Chhetri struck the equaliser in the 41st minute and put the side ahead in the 67th minute. Bengaluru’s win was sealed when Spanish defender Juan Antonio González Fernández found the back of the net in the 75th minute.
In front of a packed stadium, the hosts, who trailed 0-1 till the 41st minute, saw their skipper rising to the occasion as he nodded home a Eugenson Lyngdoh flag kick. Chhetri evaded the defence and timed his jump to perfection to bring the ‘Blues’ back in the match.
However, the defining moment came in the second half when Chhetri made space for himself from 30-yards and took a crack with his in-step to slot home, beating the outstretched hands of custodian Izham.
Lyngdoh who had a dream night at the centre of the park also had a hand in the final goal which shut the defending champions out of the contest.
An indirect free kick was beautifully swerved into the 18-yard box as the lanky Juanan outjumped the defensive melee to place the delivery to perfection as the fans went into delirium.
The significance of this achievement could be gauged by the fact that only two Indian football clubs — Dempo Sports Club of Goa and Kolkata giants East Bengal — had made it to the semifinals of the tournament since its inception.
Earlier, the Blues constantly applied pressure but Johor took the lead first up as Shafiq nodded home after BFC goalkeeper Amrinder parried the ball in the box.
The first half was a fantastic display of football by both the sides ending at 1-1, but the Blues played dominant game with majority ball possession and making regular forays into opponent’s defence areas.
Down 0-1, the Blues raided the JDT defense constantly but without much success with one of the best chances coming in 28th minute through Chhetri as the ball flashed past the goal three times in sheer madness.
The Blues also had a good chance to equalise in 18th minute as Lyngdoh’s cross led to mayhem in the box, not before Izham saved twice after a crazy minute.
Blues were unlucky in 21st minute as referee signalled for play to continue despite of huge shout for handball by a rival player. JDT’s Antonio was booked for arguing with the referee in 25th minute.
The second half, however, was completely dominated by the hosts, hardly giving any chance to the rivals by completely outplaying them.
In 48th minute of the match, the Blues made another move with Vineeth dodged past Antonio, found Chhetri unmarked at the edge of the area but he kicked wide.
In 55th minute, Eugene weaved past Antonio with ease but the JDT man recovered well and the hosts had a corner. The rivals managed to clear their lines after Alwyn George’s ill-directed shot.