Male: It took a second-half stunner from Thongkhosiem Haokip as Bengaluru FC came away from Maldives on the right side of a five-goal thriller, beating TC Sports Club 3-2 at the National Stadium, in Male, on Tuesday. An Erik Paartalu goal (69’) between a Haokip brace (52’ 78’) gave Albert Roca’s side a vital set of away goals in the first leg of the AFC Cup play-off stage game and the Maldivian side now have their backs against the wall when they travel to the Kanteerava in a week from today.
Having played back-to-back games for the last few weeks, Coach Albert Roca continued to rotate his squad. While Haokip started his second consecutive game, ErikPaartalu began in the middle and Subhasish Bose played as a centre-back.
After a goalless first half which saw little chances, Bengaluru started the second with more purpose and six minutes into the restart, got the breakthrough from a set-piece. Toni Dovale swung a corner that Rahul Bheke managed to get a head to before it needed another nod, this time from Haokip, to make it 1-0.
The goal injected the confidence that Bengaluru looked bereft of in the first half and the swift passing and spells of possession resumed. But it would be a set-piece that would catch the hosts off-guard again in the 69th minute when Paartalu rose to nod home Dovale’s take from the corner to make it 2-0.
Just when it seemed the Blues had this in the bag, two mistakes in as many minutes saw TC Sports claw back into the game. Top scorer for the Maldivian club in the campaign, Anatolii Vlasichev took his tally to five when he smashed home a cut-back from Ibrahim Mahudhee in the 71st minute to pull one back for TCSC. The hosts the got a second in the 73rd when Mahudhee made the most of a lapse from Subhasish to find himself with time and space in the box before shooting past Lalthuammawia Ralte to make it 2-2.
But Haokip and Bengaluru weren’t going to leave the island city with spoils shared. Picking the ball 30-yards out, the striker took on two defenders before unleashing a hit that left ’keeper Ibrahim Nadeem with absolutely no chance.
While the Blues regained their lead, TCSC weren’t willing to surrender. They kept on attacking in the final quarter of the match as Bengaluru struggled with injuries. Khabra and Malsawmzuala were replaced by Rahul and Daniel respectively after taking knocks, while Zohmingliana Ralte carried on bravely after the Blues had made all their changes despite taking a severe knock.
The Blues’ backline however, stayed strong in the final minutes of the game to see off a late surge of attacks from TSCS and seal the game 3-2 in their favour. Bengaluru now return to Indian Super League duties when they host FC Pune City at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Friday.