BENGALURU FC ARE on the verge of a historic milestone, once again. Today, a wonder-strike from Eugeneson Lyngdoh helped them hold defending champions Johor Darul Ta'zim to a 1-1 draw away from home in the first leg of the AFC Cup semi-finals. The result translates into an away goal advantage ahead of the second leg at home, and the chance to become the first Indian football club at the AFC Cup final.
Bengaluru started with a fairly aggressive posture with just 3 defenders which took everyone by surprise. But after a couple of early onslaughts, it became clear that the home team was keeping more of the ball, and Cameron Watson kept dropping back to the defence as the Blues reverted to a more traditional formation.
Although JDT were controlling the flow of the game and whenever BFC players got the ball they were losing it easily, but there were still a good number of counters that the visitors managed to initiate. The luck seemed to be on their side too; early on Sunil Chhetri blatantly handled the ball trying to get hold of a long pass, but the referee did not notice it. Later, Rino Anto grabbed and pulled an opponent's shirt and it escaped the referee's attention too. But JDT's Marcos Antonio picked up a booking for a foul just outside the box on Rino; although not much came out of the resulting free-kick.
On the defensive side, things were as tight as they could be. A couple of great blocks came from John Johnson, and Amrinder Singh was having the best night of his career, making some edgy flying one-handed saves to keep the Indian champions in the game. The first half ended goalless.
But early on in the second half, Johor got a corner. Captain Safiq Rahim sent a corner in for Rolando Pereyra Diaz to head straight into the net, and there wasn't much Amrinder could do. The defending champions were 1-0 up.
But only minutes later, Eugeneson Lyngdoh got hold of the ball some good 45 yards out, and instead of trying to take on the three defenders still ahead of him he turned and fired in the hole. The keeper was left standing as the cannon-esque kick curved through the air and sent cascades down the net. It was a dream strike, and Lyngdoh had scored his second away goal against Johor. The game was 1-1.
The rest of the game saw BFC fight tooth and nail not to go down again. JDT were still initiating commanding moves but something was shaken; they could no longer create that many threatening moments at the Blues' goalmouth. With several stops and starts, with cramps and fatigue setting in, Bengaluru FC managed to see it through till the end. It was a draw; the very first time that they had managed to avoid a defeat against Johor. And moreover, Martin Lucero and tonight's scorer Jorge Pereyra Diaz, two dangerous JDT attackers, received second yellows and will miss the second leg at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on 19th October.
Which means, Bengaluru FC are not only agoing into the second leg with a slight advantage over defending champions Johor thanks to the away goal, they also will face a weaker attack. In short, they are one step away from creating history by becoming the first ever Indian club to make it to the AFC Cup final.
And since Johor are unanimously recognized as the tournament favourites, this begs the question: if BFC manage to overcome them and make it to the grand finale, will they go in as favourites, with a high chance to win the prestigious continental trophy?