Bengaluru FC beat North Korean side 4.25 SC 3-0 to take a giant step towards the Inter-zone final on a rain-soaked night at the Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Wednesday.
Goals on either side of the break by skipper Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh put the Blues 2-0 up before Lenny Rodrigues chipped in with a goal in the 77th minute to give the Blues a massive advantage ahead of the away leg on September 13 in Pyongyang.
Bengaluru coach Albert Roca handed debuts to five new signings with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Rahul Bheke, Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu and Antonio Dovale all featuring in the starting XI.
The Blues had the first chance on the night as Udanta Singh intercepted a pass in the rival half and attempted a shot in the first minute which was saved by the 4.25 SC custodian. Thereafter, visitors 4.25 SC had a spell of possession where they tried to make inroads into the Blues’ box, only to be thwarted by Bengaluru’s new no 1. Gurpreet – who was called into action more than once, but remained vigilant through a nervy first quarter of an hour.
The breakthrough came through a penalty as Juanan Gonzalez, with a long diagonal ball, found Harmanjot Khabra on the flank, who headed it into box for Udanta Singh. The Manipuri’s pace caught out the opposition defence as keeper Ri-Kang brought the youngster down. Chhetri then scored his third goal of the competition via a ‘Panenka’ chip from the spot to hand the Blues a 1-0 lead.
Bengaluru continued to push up and almost doubled their lead three minutes from the break as Chhetri timed his run to perfection to beat the offside trap on a lobbed pass inside the box. The Blues’ skipper controlled the ball and tried to chip an onrushing keeper who got a deft touch to divert it for a corner. The half ended with Bengaluru a goal up.
Soon, they doubled their lead six minutes into the second half as Udanta, once again, intercepted a pass on the right before running in from the right and making no mistake to slot home past Ri Kang in the rival goal, with his left foot.
With incessant rain pouring down, both sides were finding it difficult to control the game; however, Bengaluru adjusted to the water-logged pitch better than their North Korean opponents. A quick release by Dovale down the left saw Chhetri run clear and float in a delightful cross to Lenny, who timed his run well at the far post to slide the ball home and seal the game.
Substitute Daniel Lalhlimpuia had a chance late on to get his name on the scoresheet, but he scuffed his shot wide from inside the box as the game ended 3-0.
They will play the away leg at Yanggakdo Stadium in Pyongyang. The winner of this semifinal will play the Inter-zone final against the winner of the semifinal between Tajikistan’s Istiklol and Filipino side Ceres-Negros. Istiklol won the first leg at home 4-0 and currently look favourites to meet Bengaluru in the two-legged IZF, the winner of which will go on to play the grand finale on November 4.
With the winner of the IZF playing the AFC Cup final at home, there will be extra motivation on BFC to reach the final.