Bengaluru FC booked their place in the 2018 AFC Cup group stages following a convincing 5-0 victory over TC Sports Club from the Maldives in the second leg of the south zone playoff at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday.
Antonio Dovale's hat-trick (12', 35' and 48') coupled with goals from Erik Paartalu (36') and Rahul Bheke (90') helped the 2016 runners-up beat the Maldivian side 8-2 on aggregate over 180 minutes.
Albert Roca chose to make one change from the side that returned victorious 3-2 from Male last week. Harmanjot Singh Khabra made way for Rahul Bheke at right-back. Thongkhosiem 'Semboi' Haokip played centre-forward with Udanta Singh and Dovale flanking the Manipur-born who scored a brace in the first leg.
La Masia graduate Toni Dovale put the hosts in front under a quarter of an hour. Zohmingliana Ralte released the ball for Udanta and after a square pass, Dovale found the top corner of the net from a left-footed shot from 25 yards out.
He then doubled the lead as Subhasish Bose's throw-in was headed into the danger area by Erik Paartalu. The former CD Leganes man made no mistake as he wandered in, unmarked and slammed the ball past a hapless Nadheem.
Paartalu then turned scorer in the very next minute. A poor clearance from the TC Sports backline fell into the Australian's path and the midfielder nonchalantly took aim from 40 yards as the ball went over the 'keepers head and into the net, virtually closing the deal in the first half itself.
While Ishan Ibrahim came close to creating a couple of dangerous chances for the visitors, Mohamed Nizam's boys hardly looked enterprising.
Dovale made it four-nil three minutes after the change of ends. He slotted in home from a crisp Udanta cross as he became the first Bengaluru FC player to score a hat-trick in continental competitions.
The frustration showed for the visitors as defender Alaaeldin Nasr Elmaghraby was given his marching orders on the hour mark. Roca rung in his substitutions as youngsters Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Asheer Akhtar and Joyner Lourenco got their chance while Dovale got his much-deserved applause on his way back to the dugout.
Bengaluru took advantage of the numerical advantage on the pitch in the last minute of regulation time as defender Rahul Bheke chipped the ball into goal following a goalmouth melee resulting from a corner.
The 2017 Federation Cup champions now book a place in Group E (South Asia zone) of the finals after going through two rounds of qualifying. They join fellow Indian side Aizawl FC (2016-17 I-League winners), who dropped down after losing their AFC Champions League qualifiers to Iranian outfit Zob Ahan. Bangladesh's Abahani Limited and Maldives' New Radiant SC make up the group.
Bengaluru start their group campaign away at Guwahati to Aizawl FC on 7 March, ending it on 16 May. Only one team advances into the next round in the inter-zone playoff semifinal, which takes place in August, later this year.