Air Force Club burst the Bengaluru FC bubble by beating it 1-0 to win the AFC Cup at the Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium here on Saturday. The competition’s top-scorer Hammadi Ahmed scored his 16th goal of the campaign to ensure that an Iraqi club would win the title for the first time ever.
The 70th minute strike came after forward Amjed Radhi – who otherwise had a forgettable night – outwitted both Cameron Watson and John Johnson with a clever dink on the edge of the penalty area before passing to an unmarked Hammadi to roll the ball into an empty net.
For Bengaluru, the defeat would be one of deep disappointment. After a few nervy few opening minutes, it matched Air Force Club for much of the game but had nothing to show. To return empty-handed will be crushing indeed, but a loss of face it certainly wasn’t.
Under Albert Roca, the focus in the matches thus far has been to play balls through the middle and behind the defence. From the outset, Sunil Chhetri, so integral to this plan, routinely cut in from the left to try and find the likes of C.K. Vineeth and Eugeneson Lyngdoh. Twice he tried to send the duo through with overhead balls but the Air Force Club centrebacks were up to the task.
With not much happening through the centre, BFC tried to cross its way out from the flanks. It was in these attempts that they it the closest. First Watson sent right back Rino Anto on the overlap, whose cross in turn was just out of reach for Chhetri. Nearing the half-hour mark, Alwyn George crossed from the left only to see a charging Eugene failed to connect properly.
At the back Johnson was a commanding presence, marshalling his defence and nullifying the Air Force Club’s forwards’ aerial strength with aplomb. Yet, the best chance fell to the Iraqi club towards the end of the first half. Amjed, who was sent through after Alvaro Rubio lost the ball, just had to square it to Sameh Saeed who had the goal at his mercy. But his ensuing pass was too close to Ralte. Within five minutes of the restart, Amjed missed another great chance when he sent a volley on the turn soaring over the bar.
From there on BFC was clearly on the ascendency. Eugene had a fierce drive from the edge of the penalty area, from a Chhetri chest down, blocked. Then, after a neat interplay of passes between himself and Nishu Kumar, Chhetri sprinted down the left only to mishit his pass with Vineeth waiting at the far post.
But Hammadi’s goal sucked out all energy from the BFC ranks. Roca even threw on the racy duo of Udanta Singh and Len Doungel to inject some life. Instead it was Amjed and Hammadi who had a glint-edged chance to put the tie to bed. But it ultimately wasn’t needed.