Male/Bengaluru, April 27 (IANS) Mohun Bagan secured the top spot in Group G, while Bengaluru FC ensured the second spot in Group H as both the Indian football clubs qualified for the AFC Cup pre-quarterfinals on Wednesday.
In Male, a late strike from Jeje Lalpekhlua enabled Mohun Bagan to force a 1-1 draw against Maziya Sports and Recreation Club.
Mohun Bagan qualified for the last 16 stage for the first time in the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) second tier tournament after a 1-1 draw against Yangon United in Myanmar two weeks ago as they maintained their unbeaten run in Group G.
Mohun Bagan began the match as group toppers with 10 points from four matches and now have 11 from five. They have a match left of their group assignments.
The Maldivian side moved to five points from as many matches but stayed at the third spot in the group.
In Bengaluru, Eugensen Lyngdoh (45+1 minute) and Seong-Yong Kim (60th) scored for the hosts, who defeated Lao Toyota 2-1. Kazuo Homma scored in the 67th minute for the visitors but they failed to grab the equaliser, handing Bengaluru their third win in five outings.
They have nine points — six behind table-toppers Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia. Laos-based club Lao Toyota remain at the bottom with three points — same as third-placed Ayeyawady United.
In Bengaluru, Maziya produced the first goal scoring opportunity of the match in the 14th minute when they hit the post.
Imaz Ahmed struck a free-kick sweetly from just outside the penalty box. The shot evaded the standing wall of defenders and a static Arnab Das Sarma on the goal-line and rebounded off the post.
The shock woke Mohun Bagan from their slumber. They started to grab more of the ball possession and interchanged several passes at a stretch.
Mohun Bagan had their moment of angst in the 32nd minute, when Trinidadian striker Cornell Glen’s header came back off the post.
Both set of players looked fatigued as the action took place under hot and humid conditions and went into the break at 0-0.
Maziya emerged stronger after the break and menacingly marched into the Bagan penalty box from the flanks on several occasions. But they lacked that telling final pass that would have culminated into a goal.
Mohun Bagan were also guilty of blowing a goodish chance when Glen and then India international Jeje, on the rebound, both failed to capitalise from close.
Maziya went ahead in the 65th minute when Asadullah Abdullah’s grounder went through the legs of an embarrassed Das Sharma.
Mohun Bagan stepped forward for the equaliser and midfielder Pranay Halder rose above his marker to head a corner wide just four minutes after conceding. Coach Sanjoy Sen brought on Prabir das, Lenny Rodrigues and Sauvik Chakrabarty to provide some spark in the misfiring attacking line.
But their forward burst made them susceptible at the back, which forced Das Sharma into a save in the 71st minute.
Mohun Bagan inched closer to scoring eight minutes later when defender Raju Gaikwad headed a corner on target but it was cleared off the goal-line. They finally achieved their goal though, in the third minute of added time.
Jeje applied the finishing touches to a swift move from the right, effecting a fine diving header to a low cross of midfielder Prabir Das.
It was the last piece of action in the match that secured Mohun Bagan what they required.