Bengaluru FC find themselves in a precarious situation after the first leg of their 2018 AFC Cup Inter-zone semi-final. The Indian Super League (ISL) finalists from last season lost 2-3 to Turkmenistan champions Altyn Asyr at the Kanteerava Stadium. Having conceded three goals, the Blues have gifted the driving seat to the Turkmens.
The Blues were dominated by an all-Turkmen team coached by Yazguly Hojageldiyev. The team that has four consecutive Ýokary Liga titles to their name proved to be a tough nut to crack in the opening stages of the game.
Carles Cuadrat's first official match as head coach was a difficult one to endure for the Blues faithful. A rusty start hurt the former I-League champions after Vahyt Orazsahedov put the visitors in front in the 11th minute.
The Blues found it difficult to deal with the pressure from both wide areas and through the centre in the attacking third. A chipped through ball from the opposition's right-back took the Bengaluru defence out of the equation for the first goal.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has had a lot of good days at work but Wednesday wasn't one of those. Around the half-hour mark, Altymyrat Annadurdyyev breezed past Rino Anto and burned a hole in the custodian's gloves with an angled effort. As he got back to his feet, the former Stabaek FC man would have felt that he could have done much better.
Hojageldiyev's men were ready to notch a win at all cost. There were times when they looked too physical and tough for the Blues defence. While a few Bengaluru faithful would complain about the referee, there is no doubt that their defence was in absolute shambles. Rino Anto had a terrible outing and the Bengaluru midfield missed someone like Dimas Delgado.
The passing was woeful at times and the midfield struggled to link defence and attack which is where they could have done with someone like Dimas Delgado.
The third goal came immediately after the restart and it would later turn out to be the one that decided the first leg outcome. The hosts were caught napping and Orazsahedov punished them again with a powerful effort to score a third away goal, which once again should have been stopped by Gurpreet.
The Turkmen side could easily have scored more in the first half, considering the chances they created and the fact that they saw one of their star men in Murat Yakshiyev out injured early.
Cuadrat needed a response from his team in the second half and although the hosts managed to reduce the deficit, one must wonder why they failed to start the game in the manner in which they ended it. Pre-season rust is not an excuse in the knockout stages of a continental competition.
Altyn Asyr were content to drop back and Bengaluru switched gears, one by one as the second half progressed. Xisco Hernandez was Bengaluru's base to launch attacks forward and he threatened to take control of the game in midfield.
It was the Spaniard's corner that resulted in Blues' first goal. Chhetri's header rebound off the upright and Bheke converted.
Paartalu guided Udanta's cross into the net after the goalkeeper misjudged the bounce to set up a tense end to the match. But by the time Bengaluru scored that goal, they were out of time and the referee brought the match to an end.
Although the result will be hard to take for the head coach, Carles Cuadrat will be encouraged by the late second-half surge that denied Altyn Asyr a 3-0 advantage. In a two-legged tie, the two second-half goals could make a difference. However, they need to improve by leaps and bounds.