Without their talisman Sunil Chhetri, Bengaluru FC saw their AFC Cup qualifying campaign hit a roadblock as Maziya S&RC beat the Indian club 2-1 in Male on Wednesday.
Goals from Ibrahim Mahudhee (64th) and Cornelius Stewart (80th) on either side of a Nili Perdomo (71st) spot-kick for the Blues gave Maziya the advantage ahead of the second leg in Bengaluru next week.
Carles Cuadrat chopped and changed his eleven yet again as Bengaluru began the game with Leon Augustine on the flank, making his first start for the team.
With Suresh Singh Wangjam serving a one-game suspension and Chhet ri injured, Semboi Haokip was given the task of leading the line while Ashique Kuruniyan played down the left.
Maziya were dealt an early blow when striker Asadullah Abdullah went down injured and had to be replaced with less than ten minutes on the clock.
Maziya had a chance to break the deadlock in the 40th minute when Ibrahim Aisham found himself onside and in possession.
The midfielder’s shot, however, sailed high of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s frame. Bengaluru then had a chance of their own when Perdomo’s strike from distance was parried away by Maziya’s Afghani goalkeeper Ovays Azizi.
Bengaluru’s first change saw Udanta Singh replace Augustine, and what was a cagey affair came to life in a matter of minutes in the second period.
Bengaluru, having thrown bodies forward for a set-piece, saw Paartalu’s header from a resulting long diagonal bounce off the crossbar and out of play.
Moments later, Maziya capitalised on a slick passage of play at the other end as Ibrahim Mahudhee picked the ball up in midfield and took a touch, before firing home from a distance and past the dive of Gurpreet, handing the hosts the lead.
Cuadrat made his second change of the afternoon just moments later when Deshorn Brown replaced Semboi in attack. Soon after, an infringement on the Jamaican striker prompted the referee to point to the spot. Nili Perdomo stepped up and shot past a diving Azizi to bring things level.
However, with humidity among the many factors to battle on the day, the tired Bengaluru defenders allowed Maziya another shy at goal with 10 minutes left to play.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines striker Stewart, having managed to stay onside and find inroads down the middle, slotted his effort past a hapless Gurpreet to give the Maldivian side the lead once again.
Bengaluru attacked with intent as Cuadrat sent in Nishu Kumar in place of Parag, but a resolute Maziya defence held off the Blues’ attempts to find an equaliser.
The Blues return to Bengaluru where an Indian Super League clash against ATK awaits them at the Kanteerava on Saturday, before the second leg of the AFC Cup play-off round against Maziya at the same venue on February 26.