Defending champs JDT fail to make second straight AFC Cup final appearance

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Reigning AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) bowed out of the AFC Cup competition after Bengaluru won the second leg 3-1 to reach their first final with a 4-2 aggregate win. 

Defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) were knockout of the AFC Cup after Bengaluru came from a goal down to win the semi-final 4-2 on aggregate.

Bengaluru, who notched a 1-1 draw at Larkin in the first leg, conceded first at Sree Kanteerava Stadium but ended the night 3-1 winners to become the first Indian side to reach the final. Bengaluru meet Iraq’s Air Force Club in the final on November 5.

The Southern Tigers, the first Malaysian and Southeast Asian side to appear in the final last year, were second best throughout the match despite convincingly overcoming their opponents in the group stage.

JDT, without Argentine twin terror Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Juan Martin Lucero, made three changes to their line-up - including handing mid-season signing Azrif Nasrulhaq a rare start in the competition.

Azrif replaced Azinee Taib but played on the right instead as right-footed Azamuddin Akil was swapped to the left while Amirul Hadi Zainal and Safee Sali replaced Diaz and Lucero.

Safee, well-past his prime and under-utilised, was given the task to lead the front and it paid off after just 11 minutes after Safiq Rahim was first to the ball after Amrinder Singh had saved Safee’s shot.

The goal meant the hosts no longer had a scoring away draw to protect and needed to score to comeback into the match. Amrinder did not have to do much for the rest of the match as Bengaluru looked to turn the tie around.

Bengaluru gave the Malaysia Super League winners all sorts of problems at the back, including forcing Marcos Antonio to pick up a yellow that rules him out of the club’s next continental match next year, and literally camped in their opponents’ half.

The host got their reward after skipper Sunil Chhetri headed in a corner to ensure a nail-biting second half, where Bengaluru turned on the style as the visitors ran out of ideas.

Chhetri turned hero again in the second half after curling a shot from the edge of the box past custodian Izham Tarmizi Roslan despite being marked by three defenders in the 67th minute.

Spaniard Juanan sealed the win after heading home Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s free-kick in the 75th minute.

Main Photo: JDT