A ten-man Bengaluru FC saw their dreams of a consecutive AFC Cup final come crashing down when Albert Roca’s team, who needed to win by a two-goal margin, ended things at 2-2 with FC Istiklol (3-2 on aggregate) at the Kanteerava Stadium.
Albert Roca made two changes to the starting eleven with striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia and defender Harmanjot Khabra replacing Antonio Dovale and Collin Abranches from the team that took the pitch in Dushanbe.
Needing a win by a two-goal margin to progress, Bengaluru got off to a horror start when Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was penalized by referee Khamis Al-Marri for a foul on Fathuloev Fathullo, and pointed to the spot in the 2nd minute. Sandhu, who had kept a penalty out in North Korea, was beaten this time by Davronov Nuriddin as the Tajik side went up 1-0.
Then Sunil Chhetri cut in from the left and hammered a low shot which was kept out by Istiklol keeper Nicola Stosic in the sixth minute before he sent a ball through to Dimas Delgado down the middle which the Spaniard couldn’t capitalize on. Moments later, the BFC skipper dribbled past three defenders from the left before once again being denied by Stosic.
A corner played short saw Udanta send a cross into the box that Rahul Bheke nodded home to make it 1-1 in the 24th minute. Istiklol still led on aggregate, as the Blues needed two more goals to progress.
Bengaluru’s task was made even harder in the 42nd minute when defender Harmanjot Khabra was given his marching orders by the referee for a second bookable offence after he brought down Dzhalilov Manuchher. The first half ended with the score locked at 1-1.
The Blues were dealt another blow in the 56th minute when Dmitrii Barkov tapped in from close range breaking the offside trap to put Istiklol 2-1 up on the night.
Bengaluru went close to levelling the scores once again, when Udanta ran clear down the right before cutting in and floating a left-footed cross in the box to Daniel.
Minutes later, Bengaluru FC did pull level when the referee penalized Oleksandr Stetsenko for bringing down Daniel in the box after Dovale had played him through. Chhetri stepped up and made no mistake from the spot to make it 2-2 in the 65th minute.
With Bengaluru throwing bodies forward, Istiklol countered but were not clinical in front of goal as the Blues defence went relatively untroubled in the last quarter of the game.
Into the final quarter, Roca made two more changes bringing in Alwyn George and Boithang Haokip in place of Daniel and Nishu Kumar. Into the final ten minutes, Bengaluru FC created a few close chances from set pieces, but once again Istiklol managed to somehow block the attempts as the game ended 2-2.