Bengaluru FC’s bid to reach the AFC Cup final for the second consecutive year ended in heart-break as they were held to a 2-2 draw by FC Istiklol of Tajikistan in the second leg of the Inter-Zone final on Wednesday.
Needing to overturn a 0-1 first leg defeat in their away match on September 27, Bengaluru conceded a goal as early as the fourth minute when the Tajikistan side scored through a penalty converted by Nuriddin Davronov.
Bengaluru equalised in the 24th minute through Rahul Bheke but they were reduced to 10 men as Harmanjot Khabra was shown a red card in the 42nd minute to virtually seal the fate of Albert Roca’s side.
Last edition runners-up side Bengaluru played the whole of the second half with 10 men and FC Istiklol, the 2015 losing finalists, capitalised on the advantage to take the lead in the 56th minute through a goal by Dmitri Barkov.
Sunil Chhetri restored parity in the 65th minute but that was not enough for his side to advance further as Istiklol enter the final on 3-2 aggregate.
In the summit clash on November 4, Istiklol face defending champions Air Force Club if Iraq to whom Bengaluru had lost in last year’s final.
Bengaluru dominated the match with more possession but it was a horror start for them as goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu fouled an opposition defender inside the box and the referee pointed to the dreaded spot and Davronov stepped up and converted it.
Bheke brought cheers to the home side supporters who were egging them on after being down with one goal as he headed the equiliser from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner off a cross following a corner.
Bengaluru had plenty of chances, but they failed to covert them, amidst mounting pressure on the home side to win the match with a margin two goals as they had conceded a goal.
Their best chance came in 31st minute but Chhetri’s shot hit the crossbar as Istiklol survived.
In the 83rd minute, Udanta Singh won a free kick on the left wing but was headed away for a corner. Chettri also missed a chance in the 87th minute from outside the box as his shot sailed high.
Adding more salt to Bengaluru’s wounds was the sending off of Khabra as he was red carded for committing a foul. For rest of the match, Bengaluru played with ten players on field, which probably made a tad difficult for them to score goals.