The Blues fell short at the final hurdle after an epic journey…
A brave Bengaluru FC had their Doha dreams dashed after a Hammadi Ahmad goal in the 70th minute was enough to crown Iraqi side Air Force Club champions of the AFC Cup at the Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium, in Doha, on Saturday night.
The Blues, who fought their more fancied opponents toe-to-toe for most of the game, had a moment of weakness twenty minutes from time and had to settle for second in a competition that saw them capture the imagination of an entire country with consistently inspiring performances through the year.
Roca named an unchanged starting XI from the side that beat Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semifinal spare the inclusion of Lalthuammawia Ralte in goal for a suspended Amrinder Singh. Meanwhile, for the hosts, Emad Majeed and Ahmed Khadim found starting places given the suspensions of Samal Saeed and Bashar Bonyan.
In a very measured and sometimes strong first half for Bengaluru, Ralte made very vital intervention in the 40th minute when he held on to Amjed Radhi’s intended cut-back for an unmarked Sameh Mejbel who had to simply tap in from five yards out with no one on his heels. When with the ball, Bengaluru were happy to pick Rino Anto down the right who was at his consistent best with some promising crosses in the Air Force box.
The Blues got their first big chance of the game ten minutes into the second half when Sunil Chhetri, who was picked in the Air Force box, adjusted his body and cut the ball back for Eugeneson Lyngdoh. The midfielder had the space and the time but his goal-bound shot was blocked by Air Force skipper Ali Al-Saadi.
Just a little over the hour mark, Roca rolled the dice with his substitutions bringing on the pace of Udanta Singh and Len Doungel for Nishu Kumar and Alwyn George. The change worked almost immediately as Bengaluru began pegging the Air Force defence back and earned two quick corners.
But it was Air Force who shot into the lead against the run of play when the Iraqi side’s talismanic striker Hammadi Ahmad tapped home from close after being rolled in by Amjed Radhi in the 70thminute.
With a final to chase, Bengaluru began attacking in numbers and came close to an equaliser in the 87th minute only for CK Vineeth to miscue a very difficult attempt on the volley from a BFC freekick. There were a couple of close calls in added time but the Air Force defence did enough to see the game through.