WOW! Football really is the gift that keeps on giving. The final games of the group stages were played on Wednesday in the AFC Cup and they didn’t disappoint. While we may have split them into two categories, there was always a danger that the games in the decider category could all be 0-0. Or something along those lines, anyway. Before we begin, a special mention must go to Aizawl and Abahani Dhaka as both sides were involved in ‘decider’ games without having anything to play for. One of them did more than enough!

FC Ahal Came From Two Down

Let’s get the games that had no impact on anything or anyone out the way nice and early. 4.25 qualified with a perfect record after batter Hang Yuen, 5-1. Benfica saw off North Korean side, Hwaepul, 3-0. Finally, FC Ahal came from two goals down to beat FC Alay 3-2; the winner coming deep into second-half stoppage time. On any normal given day, there would be quite a lot to dissect there. This isn’t a normal day, though. So we move on.

Group D is our first port of call and while the other game in the group between FC Ahal & FC Alay sounds like a cracker, believe me when I say it has nothing on this. I am, of course, referring to Istiklol versus Altyn Asyr. What you need to remember about this is, Altyn Asyr have to WIN to progress. Any other result will see Istiklol through.

With less than a minute on the clock, the deadlock was broken by Tursunov. Tursunov plays for Altyn Asyr, what a start for the away side! Just eighty-nine more minutes to hold on for now…

Altyn Asyr Looked In Control

On the stroke of halftime, the blues of Altyn Asyr were celebrating once again. A wicked delivery in from the left was flicked towards goal by Yagsyyew. It was probably going in any way, but Babjanow wasn’t taking any chances as he smashed it in from a yard out. 2-0 to the away side. Nobody could have foreseen this. The onus was on Istiklol in the second-half as if they wanted to qualify they had to score twice. Game on.

With seven minutes left, Zenko bundled the ball home to give Istiklol a fighting chance. They had left it too late though, right? Wrong! In the first minute of second-half stoppage time, Istiklol were awarded a penalty. It was a very, very soft penalty. Regardless, it was met with wild celebrations on the home bench. Score this and they’re through. Nazarov was either going to be a hero or a zero. He sent the keeper the wrong way, cue more bonkers celebrations. Istiklol were through. Or were they?

OH MY GOD! What A Finish

Altyn Asyr got a free-kick in their own half in the sixth minute of stoppage time. Naturally, it was just punted forward. The ball made its way out to the left. It’s floated in. HEADER. WHAT A SAVE. Wait a minute. Here’s Titow with the rebound. OH MY GOD. GOALLLLLLLLL! Altyn Asyr have nicked it at the death. Straight from kick-off, the referee blew the final whistle which was met with Istiklol players dropping to the deck. What a game. What a sport. Altyn Asyr qualify. Just.

That’s the end of Group D. Group E was on a knife-edge as well. New Radiant SC (NRSC) travelled to Aizawl while Bengaluru went to Dhaka to play Abahani. New Radiant just had to win. Bengaluru needed a helping hand. Let’s run through both games on a minute by basis like we’ve done in Syria and Jordan recently. It’s much fun.

0’ – Whistles are sounded in Bangladesh and India as the final matchday of Group E gets underway.

13’ – BLIMEY. That didn’t take long. Sunil Chhetri’s surging drive with the ball down the left accompanied with a superb delivery puts it on a plate for Daniel Segovia. He, of course, obliges. 1-0 to Bengaluru. As it stands, the Blues are through.

16’ – Chhetri was once again the orchestrator. This time, he held the ball up as well before laying it on a plate for Nishu Kumar who finished with aplomb. 2-0. Still no action in India.

45’ – Halftime. Bengaluru look in control, however, all it would take would be one New Radiant goal to turn the group on its head.

Chhetri Was Bossing Abahani

58’ – Just stop it. Chhetri gets his third assist of the game and like the other two, this was completely different. He dinked a ball over the top to Nishu who controlled and finished brilliantly. 3-0.

60’ – Chhetri got a deserved goal after the geezer in the Abahani goal dropped a clanger. He remained calm where others may well have panicked. He took a few touches and put it away. 4-0. Still no news from Aizawl…

61’ – PENALTY in Aizawl. NRSC’s keeper had a rush of blood to the head and gifted Aizawl a penalty. What was he thinking? Dodoz had a chance to put Aizawl in the lead.  The guilty keeper guessed the right way but the penalty was too good. NRSC needed two goals or an unbelievable Abahani comeback to now qualify.

Aizawl Were In Front Against All Odds

82’ – GOAL. Totally against the run of play, Ionescu doubles Aizawl’s lead. A ball over the top let Ionescu open his legs and NRSC were never going to catch him. 2-0 to Aizawl. NRSC need to act fast or once again, pray for a Abahani miracle.

85’ – Ibrahim Atheeg gets a goal back for New Radiant. Two more in five plus stoppages? Stranger things have happened…

90+6’ – Not today. Bengaluru qualify against all odds after murdering Abahani and being handed a massive helping hand from Aizawl.

I’m going for a lie down. New Radiant’s dismal away record in the AFC Cup continues as Albert Roca’s side march on. Which brings me to my next point. Albert Roca has decided that the time has come to part ways with Bengaluru which does upset me a great deal. It seems that it’s not a permanent goodbye which could mean anything, however, I have a theory.

Roca & Chhetri To Arsenal?

Mikel Arteta is being heavily-linked to the Arsenal post and who is his uncle? Albert Roca. You’re telling me that Albert Roca leaving his post hasn’t got anything to do with the other? Of course, it does. I’m expecting to see Chhetri lining up for Arsenal next season. You heard it here first. 

Of course, I have no idea if Albert Roca is related to Mikel Arteta. Sometimes it’s nice to pretend, though.

Until the next time.