FC Istiklol seal AFC Cup final berth

AFC Cup Istiklol

Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol advanced to their second AFC Cup final in two years after holding JSW Bengaluru of India to a 2-2 draw in the second leg of the Inter-Zone final on Wednesday.

The result at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore handed the Tajikistanis a 3-2 aggregate win and a date in the final of the competition against holders Air Force Club of Iraq next month.

Bengaluru will be left to rue a red card handed to Harmanjot Khabra shortly before half-time, which all but ruined their chances of forcing a different result in the second half.

The home side also made the worst possible start to the game when goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh upended Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev in the box in only the third minute of proceedings.

Nuriddin Davronov stepped up and slotted home the penalty to put Istiklol in front.

Bengaluru responded superbly in the 24th minute, however, Rahul Bheke latching on to Udanta Singh’s pinpoint cross to head in the equaliser.

Sunil Chhetri was unlucky to hit the crossbar six minutes later, as the home side starting controlling the game.

But disaster struck again shortly before half-time, as Khabra received a second yellow card for a reckless foul on Manuchehr Dzhalilov.

Reduced to 10 men, the second half was always going to be a struggle for the hosts, and Istiklol all but booked their place in the final in the 56th minute when Dmitri Barkov tapped in a cross from Dzhalilov for a 3-1 aggregate lead.

Bengaluru were handed a lifeline when Chhetri converted from the penalty spot in the 65th minute following a foul in the box from Oleksandr Stetsenko, but try as they might, they could not conjure up any further goals, as victory went to the visitors.