Bengaluru FC suffered a heartbreaking 0-1 defeat at the hands of Air Force Club of Iraq in the summit clash of the AFC Cup as they failed to become the first Indian football club to win an Asian title.
I-League champions Bengaluru have already become the first Indian to qualify for the final of the AFC Cup, a second tier club competition in Asia, but they were chasing for a bigger glory and unprecedented continental title, but in the end were beaten by a superior side at Qatar Sports Club Stadium in Doha.
Bengaluru were simply outplayed by Air Force Club, despite a solid expatriate crowd egging on them at the stadium and lot of support from the sports fraternity at home, as they got very few scoring chances while the Iraqi side had several of them, especially in the second half and the closing stages of the match.
Star striker Hammadi Ahmed Abdullah, who has scored 15 goals in the 11 matches Air Force Club played before today in the tournament, netted the match-winner in the 71st minute to give his side their maiden AFC Cup title and break the Indians' heart.
This was the first time an Iraqi side won the AFC Cup title after Erbil Club finished runners-up twice in 2012 and 2014.
Despite the loss and heartbreak, Bengaluru will return home with their heads held high as they set a benchmark for Indian clubs by reaching thus far. Before them, only two clubs -- Dempo in 2008 and East Bengal in 2013 -- had reached the semifinals of the AFC Cup.
Bengaluru and Air Force Club were locked in a goal-less stalemate at half time with the Iraqi side dominating possession and the Indian club defending their citadel resolutely. But the barrage of attacks from Air Force Club was to bear fruit at some stage and it happened in the 71st minute.
Bengaluru FC head coach Albert Roca made just one change to his team which started against Johor Darul Ta'zim in the semifinals with Lalthuamawia Ralte replacing suspended Amrinder Singh at the goal.
The first half was dominated by the Air Force Club with the Iraqi side having more of the ball possession and Bengaluru playing in their own half. The Iraqi side, playing their maiden AFC Cup final just like Bengaluru, though did not have any clear chance with the Bengaluru back four of John Johnson, Juanan, Rino Anto and Nishu Kumar doing an impressive job to thwart ay Air Force attack.
Bengaluru, on the other hand, looked to attack on the break either from the right through Alwyn George or from the left through captain Sunil Chhetri with Eugeneson Lyngdoh playing at the hole behind C K Vineeth.