Bengaluru FC have made history by becoming the Indian team ever to reach the AFC Cup finals, defeating the defending champions Johor Darul Ta'zim three goals to one, and four goals to two on aggregate. The stars of the show were the Indian duo of Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who provided two assists, and Indian captain Sunil Chhetri who scored a brace.
The game started somewhat slowly with JDT having most of the ball for the best part of two minutes. Albert Roca sprung a surprise of his own, starting Sunil Chhetri on the left as opposed to Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who had started the last three games on the left.
Bengaluru, though, seemed to be more decisive in attack whenever they had the ball, with Eugeneson often playing ahead of Vineeth from the number ten position. The home team had their first real opportunity when Chhetri was found by Rino Anto on the back post, but his first touch allowed Kunanlan to clear the ball.
But JDT, despite not having the ball for an extended period, found the breakthrough first – via their captain Safiq. The build-up to the goal was a lovely piece of football, with Azrif playing the ball through to Safee; his one-two at the edge of the box confused Juanan and allowed him to take the shot.
The shot was parried away by Amrinder Singh, but his parry dipped back below the bar, allowing Safiq to head in and give the Malaysians a valuable away goal, and a lead on aggregate.
Bengaluru had an opportunity of their own around the 18th-minute mark, when a corner from Eugeneson created confusion in the Johor box. That led to Rino Anto trying to curl it around goalkeeper Azammuddin, but he punched it away to safety.
The 27th minute of the game saw an incredible moment, with the Blues playing pinball in the Johor box via a corner. But the ball just refused to go in, and ultimately ended up with Chhetri’s shot going behind for a goal kick after just nicking the crossbar.
It was all Bengaluru for most of the first half, as they pushed for an equalizer. They finally made one of the chances count as Eugeneson put another great ball into the box from a corner, and Chhetri headed it into the back of the net to send the West Block into delirium.
The pattern of the game continued for the rest of the half with Bengaluru having most of the possession and the better chances.
The Malaysian side started the second half better, but created nothing of note. The first real chance of the second half fell to the Bengaluru skipper, after some good work by Vineeth in the buildup, but he got his finish all wrong trying to hit it first time into the far corner.
The tempo of the game dropped after that, prompting the West Block to chant “Attack, attack!” on multiple occasions.
The Albert Roca philosophy seemed to be kicking in as the half wore on, with Bengaluru content at keeping possession of the ball. Johor also did their bit, sitting deep and asking the Blues to break their defensive blocks.
It almost happened for the home side when a gorgeous ball from Rubio picked out Chhetri on the left, and his reverse pass allowed Eugeneson to cross from the byline. The latter’s cross though was blocked by an on-rushing Azammuddin.
But Chhetri got his second goal, after another flowing move. Vineeth held up the ball well for the Indian captain, who promptly cut inside on his stronger right foot to beat the goalkeeper at his near post, putting the Blues ahead on aggregate.
Bengaluru understandably killed the tempo of the game thereafter, but still kept making the better chances.
They took a 3-1 lead in the game thanks to another brilliant delivery from Eugeneson into the box, which Juanan glanced in for his first goal in a Blue shirt. The frustrations of the defending champions started to show as they were unable to create any clear-cut chances, which resulted in multiple squabbles between both sets of players and led to yellow cards for Rubio and Vineeth.
Bengaluru continued to fashion out clear cut chances as JDT kept piling bodies, and they should have ideally made it 4-1 when Rino Anto crossed from the right onto the head of Eugeneson. But his header went over the bar and behind.
The game became disjointed in the last five minutes due to injuries and substitutions for both teams. Mario Gomez threw the kitchen sink as he asked Marcos Antonio (the center back) to play as a number nine.
The last few minutes were frantic, but Bengaluru held on with some good defending and brilliant shot stopping by Amrinder Singh.
All in all, a thoroughly deserved victory for the Blues.