Istiklol claim slender lead over Bengaluru

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FC Istiklol took one step towards the AFC Cup final after beating Bengaluru FC 1-0 in the first leg of the inter-zone final on Wednesday evening.

Dmitry Barkov grabbed the only goal of the game at the Hisor Central Stadium with a thumping header just before the half-hour mark, handing his side the slimmest of advantages.

But given how both sides played out a keenly-contested encounter and showed plenty of initiative, there is still much to play for when they meet again in Bangalore on October 18.

It was certainly an intriguing affair between a Istiklol side who have swept aside all that have come their way in the tournament thus far, and their Indian opponents looking to go one better after their runners-up finish in 2016.

With the backing of a vociferous home crowd, it was the Tajik champions who broke the deadlock in the 27th minute.

Fatkhullo Fathulloev found space down the right and swung in a lovely cross into the box, where Barkov did well to get in ahead of his market and send a powerful diving header past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

Eight minutes before halftime, the hosts nearly made it 2-0 when Ehson Panshanbe unleashed a ferocious drive from the edge of the box that forced Gurpreet into a flying save.

The better chances continue to fall Istiklol’s way in the second half and the Bengaluru keeper had to be alert again in the 51st minute to keep out a Fathulloev freekick, before Manuchekhr Dzhalilov uncharacteristically blazed over from six yards after being set up by Panshanbe.

Dzhalilov then looked to have doubled his side’s advantage when he got in behind the opposition defence and skipped past the onrushing Gurpreet before scoring, but the strike was ruled out by a marginal offside call.

Nonetheless, as the game entered its closing stages, the visitors upped their intensity in a bid to grab a vital away goal.

It looked as though Istiklol would have it in them to keep Bengaluru at bay, although they had an almighty scare right at the death.

Into the fifth minute of injury-time, Udanta Singh raced down the left and his low cross caused pandemonium inside the Istiklol box.

Twice, Tabrezi Davlatmir made vital blocks – the second of which had Bengaluru appealing for handball – before Udanta rifled the loose ball towards goal, which Nikola Stosic somehow managed to claw off the line.

Moments later, Istiklol were left celebrating at the sound of the final whistle, although Albert Roca’s charges could still have plenty to say come the second leg.

FC ISTIKLOL: Nikola Stosic, Romish Jalilov, Oleksandr Stetsenko, Siyovush Asrorov, Akhtam Nazarov, Jahongir Aliev, Nuriddin Davronov (Tabrezi Davlatmir 79’), Ehson Panshanbe (Muhammadjoni Hasan 90’), Fatkhullo Fathulloev, Dmitry Barkov, Manuchekhr Dzhalilov (Dilshod Vasiev 82’).

BENGALURU FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Collin Abranches (Harmanjot Khabra 66’), Rahul Bheke, Erik Paartalu, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Lenny Rodrigues (Alwyn George 87’), Dimas Delgado, Toni (Daniel Lalhlimpuia 77’), Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh.