A stoppage-time header from Jeje Lalpekhlua earned Mohun Bagan a 1-1 draw with Maziya Sports & Recreation of the Maldives as the Indian side wrapped up top spot in Group G of the AFC Cup on Wednesday.
Looking to avenge their 5-2 loss in the reverse fixture, Maziya came closest to breaking the deadlock in a goalless first half at National Stadium when midfielder Ahmed Imaaz struck the woodwork from a free-kick inside 15 minutes before forward Asadhulla Abdulla did open the scoring for the hosts 20 minutes after the restart.
But just as it seemed Maziya were going to hold on for their second straight home victory, forward Lalpekhlua’s diving header at the death claimed a hard-earned point for Mohun Bagan as they remained unbeaten in Group G.
“Our boys tried until the last minute and we managed to score in the last minute; we are top of the group and that was our primary target,” said Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen.
“The first half was not good for both teams and the second half was okay. But this is my first AFC Cup and I’m happy so far with the results in the tournament.”
Maziya almost opened the scoring just before the quarter-hour mark when Imaaz’s low curling free-kick from 20 yards hit the outside of the post after Abdulla had been upended by Sanjay Balmuchu.
The visitors came back into the tie but had to wait until the 33rd minute for their first chance of note when Raju Gaikwad’s cross from the right was met by the head of Pronoy Halder eight yards from goal, but goalkeeper Imran Mohamed was on hand to push wide.
And the game began to open up as half-time approached as forward Lalpekhlua spun and fired wide from 10 yards for Mohun Bagan before Abdulla’s volley narrowly missed the target at the other end as the score remained goalless.
The hosts went in front in the 64th minute when Abdulla’s shot from 15 yards clipped Balmuchu on route to finding the back of the net after goalkeeper Arnab Dan Sarma had thwarted substitute Ismail Easa as he ran through on goal just seconds earlier.
Easa then nearly gave Maziya breathing space seven minutes later but his effort from just inside the penalty area was well pushed wide by Dan Sarma.
Looking to defend their unbeaten run, though, Mohun Bagan came back into the game and were unfortunate not to level things up with 10 minutes remaining when Habeeb Yasfaadh cleared off the Maldivian line as Gaikwad’s header from substitute Prabir Das’ corner seemed destined to find the back of the net.
And the Indians then did equalise with almost the last play of the game when an inch-perfect cross from Das was met by an equally impressive diving header by Lalpekhlua that found the bottom right corner as he notched his sixth goal of the continental campaign.
“We had many goal-scoring opportunities and managed to score just one,” said Maziya coach Ali Suzain.
“Our goalkeeper’s involvement was important in getting us a point, but if the players had really focused on the match we would have got all three.”
by AFC Media