The Blues outclassed The North Korean outfit on a rain-soaked evening in the Garden City.
New players. Old result. It was business as usual for Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup Inter Zonal Semi-Final Forst Leg as they saw off the challenge of North Korean side April 25 Sports Club in a rain marred clash at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. Goals from Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, and Lenny Rodrigues gave Albert Roca’s new look side a huge advantage before the second leg in Pyongyang.
Match Highlights: Bengaluru FC 3-0 April 4.25 SC
The visitors went in with a 4-5-1 approach to negate the midfield of the home side. However, the supposedly cautious approach was not to be seen as the visitors bossed possession and looked the sharper of the two teams on the park.
The visitors clearly had the benefit of a squad that had played together for a long time unlike BFC who had several new faces that clearly needed time to settle into Roca’s system. This was evident as Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu were guilty of losing possession in dangerous areas of the pitch.
However, the home side did fashion a chance in the 21st minute when a free kick floated in by Rahul Bheke saw Udanta’s cushion onto the path of Chhetri whose shot was saved by the 4.25 SC defence.
The effort saw the home crowd find their voices again. However, they would have had their hearts in their mouths when Ri Hyong Jin’s free kick was met with a header by An Song Il with Gurpreet completely missing the ball. Luckily for him the effort sailed over the bar.
The home side were made to sweat even more just minutes later. Ri Hyong Jin’s threat from dead ball situations was a real problem for BFC as his free kick from outside the box was beaten away by Sandhu.
However, a swift move in the 32nd minute brought the game to life. Dovale’s cushioned header from a wide right position onto the path of an onrushing Udanta saw opposition custodian Ri Kang rush out of his line and fouling the 22-year-old India winger. The Saudi Arabian referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty to the home side. It was captain fantastic Sunil Chhetri who stepped up and execute a perfect Panenka to give the 2016 AFC Cup finalists the lead.
The visitors looked dangerous in the middle of the park as they regularly found spaces between the lines but lacked the bite in the final third of the pitch. They were nearly made to pay for their attacking instincts as a swift counter by Roca’s side saw Chhetri beating the offside trap receive the ball from outside the visitors penalty box. His delicate chip was well savead by Ri Kang for a corner.
The North Korean team made a change just before half time when Han Song Hyok was replaced by star striker Kim Yu Song. The striker made his presence felt when he turned Bheke smartly and found himself one on one with Gurpreet who got down smartly saving the shot.
It looked like the positive substitution would have had an effect on the game, but it wasn’t long before Bengaluru doubled their lead in the 51st minute when a slide rule pass found Udanta on the right who finished calmly past Ri Kang.
The chances suddenly began to come for the home side as Khabra’s whipped cross from the right just needed a touch from Erik Paartalu who made a fine run into the box. However, the Australian was unable to get that vital connection and the ball went harmlessly away from goal.
The second goal seemed to have sapped the life out of the visitors as they struggled to fashion a chance. The conditions in the Garden City became increasingly tough as the rain gods unleashed their fury. Passes fell short and mistakes were a definite possibility. While there were no threats to either goal for a brief period, Lenny Rodrigues decided to try his luck when his 25 yard pile driver had Ri Kang stretching fully to tip it over the bar. The former Churchill man was on hand to slide in Bengaluru’s 3rd for the game after Chhetri provided the perfect assist from the left hand side.
The hosts held on for the remainder of the match as they continue to grow strong in the continental tournament in a manner akin to their famous 2016 competition.