Male (Maldives) A late strike from Jeje Lalpekhlua enabled Mohun Bagan to force a 1-1 draw against Maziya Sports and Recreation Club and secure qualification as group toppers in their AFC Cup campaign here on Wednesday.
Mohun Bagan qualified for the last 16 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 4 matches and now have 11 from five. They have a match left of their group assignments.
Their qualification as group toppers means they will play their pre-quarterfinal match against a yet to be decided opponent at home.
The Maldivian side moved to five points from as many matches but stayed at the third spot in the group.
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.