Bengaluru FC struck to a plan, kept their much-vaunted opponents quiet but got hit just when they decided that the situation called for a little more adventure. With it, the AFC Cup ended up being a goal too far for India.
When Al-Quya Al-Jawiya struck, Bengaluru FC had taken control, forced two corner-kicks and had Sunil Chhetri denied by a crucial block by Zaher Almedani. It came from Hammadi Ahmad but the hard work was done by Amjad Radhi who beat Cameron Watson and John Johnson. It will be small consolation for Johnson that he wasn’t beaten before or after that.
By getting Udanta Singh and Seiminlen Doungel after the hour-mark, Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca had tried to take the game to the opponents but by switching to three centre-backs, they left gaps in the field Iraq Air Force Club exploited. Having looked solid till then, Bengaluru FC could have conceded more.
Till then, the story was different. Roca would have been happier if Bengaluru FC had managed to get deliveries behind the defence. Or, if Eugeneson Lyngdoh had made better contact to a Rino Anto delivery.
The Spaniard would have been satisfied with the way Bengaluru FC kept their shape when they didn’t have possession. Chhetri had spoken of the need to kill space and his team did that in the first half. Not having any effort on target didn’t seem a major problem in that context.
Johnson won every aerial duel he was involved in and, with Watson and Alvaro Rubio playing in front of the back four, Bengaluru FC weathered an early storm before making the Iraqis hit an air pocket.
Replacing the suspended Amrinder Singh, goalie Lalthuammawia Ralte sometimes played sweeper-keeper as a Spanish coach in another part of the football world is known to prefer and was wobbly with his sense of position but made a crucial interception in either half.
Both teams had a problem on the left side of the defence but it was Anto who made that count with two deliveries, the second of which missed Chhetri by little.
Missing defender Samal Saeed and midfielder Resan Booniyan due to suspensions, Al- Quya Al-Jawiya were also hamstrung by injury to Humam Tareq, who was easily the most comfortable on the ball. They were also ordinary with set-pieces and, as is often the bane of teams from west Asia, their shooting left a lot to be desired.
Bengaluru FC played the match’s best set-piece late in the match and by missing contact, CK Vineeth would be left ruing what could have been after working hard as the lone forward.
By winning this, the Iraq team made history but by getting this far, so have Bengaluru FC. In the way, Bengaluru FC threw everything for the equaliser, they showed that at least one Indian team is ready for more of this.