Virtuoso Chhetri produces vintage performance as BFC thrash Aizawl in the AFC Cup
In the last minute of the first half with Bengaluru FC leading Aizawl FC 3-0 in the AFC Cup, Chhetri had already done his bit for the evening.
With a goal and an assist until then, Chhetri was fuming at right-back Laldinliana's tackle on him when he had only the keeper to beat. The tackle from behind is risky - either a clearance, or a penalty and a red card. Chhetri bangs the turf; it's probably not displeasure at the refereeing decision, but the action of a top professional unhappy with the lost chance and drive for more. The chance didn't prove costly as Chhetri went on to give another assist as BFC routed Aizawl 5-0 at the Kanteerava stadium to keep their knockout hopes alive.
Operating as a sole striker in this virtual must-win game -- Miku isn't registered for the tournament with the AFC rules not allowing more than four foreigners -- Chhetri appeared to relish the prospect of leading the line. There was a bounce about him that reminded of his Dempo and JCT days in the I-League. His movements were sudden, measured and lethal, and he showed his experience in earning and executing BFC's first goal of the night.
Picking up a ball inside the box, he realised the onrushing goalkeeper Awmpuia might not give him much of a chance to get a shot away, so he nudged the ball to narrow the angle, inviting a challenge from the youngster and picking up a penalty. He pulled out the Panenka a couple of times these last 12 months, and Awmpuia wanted to stay on his feet and watch Chhetri till the last second. Chhetri out-thought him, delaying his kick till he spotted the last of the goalkeeper's movements, sending the ball the other way. 1-0 in the 16th minute.
At 2-0, Chhetri found himself onside yet again and one-on-one with Awmpuia. He watched his options till the end, and then just as the Aizawl defence prepared to get a block in from what looked like a sure angle, he squared it into the path of Udanta Singh, who slipped it underneath a wrong-footed goalkeeper.
Chhetri wasn't done for the night, of course; there was a scorching free-kick that appeared to come off an Aizawl arm inside the defensive wall, and then a delightful cutback to set up substitute Daniel Lalhlimpuia for 5-0. It's a win that only keeps Bengaluru mathematically in the hunt for the AFC Cup playoff stages. Only the group winner advances for the Inter-Zone semifinals - and BFC have left themselves at the mercy of New Radiant of Maldives, group leaders by virtue of a superior head-to-head against Bengaluru. Both have 12 points each with one match left in the group stage.
BFC need some luck, but with Chhetri in his pomp, they are sure of keeping New Radiant -- who travel to Aizawl for the final game -- under pressure when BFC travel to Dhaka Abahani on the last matchday.