Visitors Bengaluru FC fell prey to Istiklol on Wednesday evening after a 27th-minute goal from Dmitry Barkov was proved to be enough to seal a victory for his side.
Albert Roca's Bengaluru FC side lined up in a full strength 4-3-3 formation with the exception of English defender John Johnson who has pulled out of the side's AFC Cup campaign citing personal commitments. Also missing from the starting lineup was veteran wing-back Harmanjot Singh Khabra, relegated to the bench as Collin Abranches replaced the 28-year-old.
As for Istiklol, who opted for a 4-4-2 formation, three of their stalwarts were suspended for this game. Defender Artem Baranovskyi and midfielders David Mawutor and Amirbek Juraboev were not available for selection after continuous yellow cards in their previous game.
The match kicked off on a nervous note for the hosts as youngster Udanta Singh broke away from his marker, and with Stetsenko still finding his feet in the game, the winger found time and space to deliver a cross into the box, which was safely handled by the goalkeeper.
Thirteen minutes into the game, the new Indian Super League side's custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu pulled off an important save. It was Fatkhuloev who made the run and sent a cross into the box. Eventual goalscorer Barkov was left unmarked but his headed effort was latched onto by the Bengaluru goalkeeper.
The home side kept trying their luck for an opening goal as Fatkhuloev succeeded in getting past Lenny Rodrigues to spew the ball inside the box. However, Dzhalilov failed to connect to the sweet spot. Just a minute later, Jahongir Aliev took a shot with his weaker foot from Davronov's brave low cross into the box as he nearly crossed over the by-line. Aliev was left unmarked inside the box but again, the visitors escaped without punishment as the cross went wide.
27 minutes into the game, the deadlock at the Hisor Central Stadium was broken and Dmitry Barkov registered his name on the scoresheet. Barkov opened the goal tally for his side with a headed goal which almost resembled a cannon shot, all thanks to Fatkhuloev who lobbed it in beautifully for the Russian who found space between the two unalert defenders inside the box.
Around the half-hour mark, skipper Sunil Chhetri tried to get his team back into the game with a vicious shot but it sailed wide of the goal.
The tail-end of the first half witnessed end-to-end action as Bengaluru FC looked more poised when going forward but the side trailed by a goal at the half-time whistle.
The second half saw Gurpreet Singh Sandhu tested yet again as Fatkhuloev dug deep and targeted the near post. The former Stabaek goalkeeper, with his commendable glove work, dived to keep the ball away.
At the hour mark, Bengaluru FC came close to setting up the equalising goal as captain Chhetri had Panjshanbe within his grasp but failed to find an opening from the edge of the box. However, Dovale was flagged offside by the linesman and the chance went in vain.
Eight minutes later, Harmanjot Khabra was introduced by coach Roca, who in turn fed the ball to Chhetri. The skipper found himself in a rather sticky position and let it loose from distance which went miles wide.
With fifteen minutes of regulation time remaining, the visiting side tried to pull up their socks and Istiklol looked somewhat disorganised as Roca played his cards through substitutions. After Udanta and Daniel fail to find an opening, Istiklol broke on a counter. Vasiev foolishly took a long swipe with only the goalkeeper in front of him and Gurpreet expectedly latched onto it with no problems whatsoever.
Bengaluru FC maintained ball possession for long periods in both the halves but failed to convert any of it as they were defeated by Istiklol at Tajikistan following a lack of successful attempts for an equalizer in the latter half. As for the home side, The Crowns have a slender one goal advantage heading into the second leg of the 2017 AFC Cup inter-zone play-off finals.