Joni Kauko scored a brace for the Mariners in the emphatic success.

Needing a win and nothing less to secure the top spot in Group D of the AFC Cup 2022, the group hosts got up and running thanks to a first-half brace from Finnish midfielder Joni Kauko, then went on with the job after half-time to delight the crowd at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium.

The result sent the Indian Super League outfit to the Inter-Zone Semi-finals for the second successive season, with the club to resume their continental campaign in early September.

Bashundhara Kings’ earlier win against Gokulam Kerala had made the equation clear ahead of kick-off; ATK Mohun Bagan had the chance to advance as group winners with a win, while any other result would send the Bangladeshi champions through, but it was already eliminated Maziya who started strongest. 

Steady in at the back thanks to Samooh Ali and Hassan Shifaz, the Maldivian outfit kept the hosts at bay early and went close to opening the scoring through both Hamza Mohamed and Aisam Ibrahim in the opening 25 minutes.

But the match swung sharply in ATK Mohun Bagan’s favour on 26 minutes, when Maziya goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong, under pressure from Roy Krishna, passed the ball directly to the feet of Kauko, who duly slammed it home from 15 yards. 

Kauko then doubled the lead, latching onto Manvir Singh’s superb flick-on header before beating Kiran for the second time in 11 minutes to put Juan Ferrando’s charges two goals ahead.

ATK Mohun Bagan’s path out of the group looked trouble-free, but Maziya were handed a lifeline when Deepak Tangri lost possession far too cheaply just before half-time, with Pedro Placeeres, also known as Tana, punishing the error after being supplied by Cornelius Stewart. 

With the score at 2-1 at the interval, the game was very much up for grabs, but the hosts’ nerves were eased when Krishna expertly poked home their third after bringing a Subhashish Bose to cross under control in the 56th minute. 

ATK Mohun Bagan’s knockout stage ticket was as good as stamped when three became four just two minutes later, with Subhashish helping Liston Colaco’s set-piece delivery on its way, with Maziya’s defence putting up an increasingly shallow resistance as the match slipped out of their grasp.

The visitors’ night went from bad to worse when Carl McHugh ventured forward to make it 5-1 with the aid of a deflection in the 71st minute, although Tana rounded his own excellent campaign when he headed home his second of the match to reduce the arrears two minutes later as AFC Cup 2022’s most compelling group continued to deliver right to the last.

ATK Mohun Bagan squandered a succession of chances to add to their lead as the game opened up even further in the final minutes, but their group stage mission was comfortably accomplished, with greater challenges ahead come September. 

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