'Errors' cost BFC dear

Coach Albert Roca blames refereeing blunders for team's exit

'Errors' cost BFC dear

Without having access to Bengaluru FC head coach Albert Roca’s mind, it’s difficult to say what his plans.

Why in a match as crucial as the second leg of the AFC Cup inter-zonal final against FC Istiklol of Tajikistan, did he chose to persist with their weakest link in the defence — Nishu Kumar — or why was their midfield missing when they needed it the most?

Though many would argue that on Wednesday, Bengaluru were hard done by poor officiating, and rightfully so, it would be hard to pin their failure to make it a second successive final on just the officials.

Having eked out a 1-0 win in the first leg in Dushanbe last month, Istiklol went into the return fixture at Sree Kanteerava Stadium knowing anything other than a loss would see them through to the final. Bengaluru, on the other hand, had to win the tie by a margin of two goals. If this wasn’t a herculean task in itself, Nuriddin Davronov’s early penalty left the hosts needing three goals to progress.

Make or break

Though replays suggested that Bengaluru goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was nowhere close to Fatkhullo Fatkhulloev when the Tajik took a tumble inside the penalty box, Qatari referee Khamis Al Marri chose to see it otherwise and pointed to the spot without a second thought. And it was no surprise that Roca was infuriated with this decision. “The referees’ decisions can make or break everything,” he said after the game.

“We were prepared for a game. And then with this action (penalty decision in the second minute) and then the red card, which resulted in us playing more than 50 minutes with a player less, it wasn’t possible.”

“It was very difficult and I am sad for my team and the players. They did their best and gave their all. The referees were not good. If they can’t do well in such a crucial match, there’s nothing we can do. We can’t control the situation.”

While the penalty was hard on Bengaluru, the red card that Roca mentioned was all Harmanjot Khabra’s fault. Having being booked once for a silly tackle in the 25th minute, Khabra lunged into Dmitrii Barkov around the 40 minute mark leaving the Qatari referee with no choice but to flash a second yellow.

From there on, a rescue mission was much more difficult as Itskilol controlled the game with ease, and with Nishu playing into Istiklol’s trap by dropping deeper and deeper, and allowing the attacker much time and space to operate, things never really took off for Bengaluru.

Though Bengaluru levelled before the break and Dmitri Barkov’s tap-in as the hour approached was enough to ease any nerves and rendered Sunil Chhetri’s penalty midway through the second half as just a consolation, they were left to a handful of unanswered questions as they looked forward to a new season - the Indian Super League this time.

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