Bengaluru FC were defeated 2-3 at home by Altyn Asyr in the first leg of the 2018 AFC Cup inter-zone playoff semi-final at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday.
The Turkmenistan champions helped themselves to three away goals with a brace from Vahyt Orazsahedov (11' and 46') and one from Altymyrat Annadurdyyev (25'). Rahul Bheke (63') and Erik Paartalu (88') staged a mini-comeback in the second half but that was not enough to avoid a defeat in Carles Cuadrat's first game in charge of the Blues.
Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, new signing Xisco Hernandez slotted alongside Erik Paartalu in the double pivot in midfield. Sunil Chhetri had Udanta Singh and Boithang Haokip for support as Miku, making his AFC Cup debut started up front.
Altyn Asyr had selection problems of their own but Selim Nurmuradov was entrusted with a start by coach Yazguly Hojageldiyev. That meant Murat Yakshiyev, shifted to the right and Furkat Tursunov would drop to the bench.
As fate would have it, Yakshiyev pulled a muscle and Tursunov was called upon as early as the ninth minute of the game to replace the winger who already has scored five goals in the tournament. Bengaluru were visibly second-best from the outset as the Indian side failed to get a grasp on Altyn Asyr's solidity all over the field.
Vahyt Orazsahedov, who just recently returned to the club after leaving in 2016 put the visitors ahead. Selim Nurmuradov's attempt was blocked by Juanan in the six-yard box and the loose ball fell to right-back Serdar Annaorazov. A calm chip forward and the former Rubin Kazan man bypassed Rahul Bheke to head the ball in, drawing first blood.
Minutes later, Bengaluru pounced on a counter-attack after Resul Hojayev's attempt from a corner was blocked. Miku crossed the ball for Sunil Chhetri who had trod into the box but his header was kept out by goalkeeper Mamed Orazmuhamedov.
While Bengaluru found it incredibly tough to break the defensive screen, Alytn Asyr talisman Altymyrat Annadurdyyev doubled the lead before the half-hour mark. A darting run from the left outfoxed Rino Anto and an angled shot from 18 yards came off the post and slipped through Gurpreet Singh Sandhu's gloves.
He could have scored his eighth goal of the tournament a minute later but his chip, following a solo run forward, was wide off the post. Shouts for a penalty were also turned down by the referee when Shohrat Soyunov's met the ball inside his own box.
Immediately after the restart, the hosts were caught napping and Orazsahedov did not miss the opportunity to capitalise. The 26-year-old took a powerful aim after Annadurdyyev fed him the ball and Sandhu had no chance as the 2016 finalists had let in three away goals already.
Xisco displayed extreme fluidity in creating the attacks but Chhetri was caught offside on more than one occasion and the rustiness from the close season was evident.
Rahul Bheke did manage to pull one back. Xisco's flag-kick was headed in by Chhetri but it only hit the upright and the rebound was cleverly slotted into the net by the defender.
The hosts finally gathered some steam but were unlucky when their shouts for handball were turned down more than once by the Japanese referee.
Xisco was left to feel helpless when his freekick from the edge of the box was nodded right into the keeper's gloves by Erik Paartalu. But with two minutes left for the end of regulation time, he made amends.
Udanta Singh pounced upon a loose ball, sent a low cross into the box, and the burly Australian guided it into the net.
With five minutes of injury time, Bengaluru looked determine to level the scores but both Paartalu and Chhetri failed to find luck. Altyn Asyr ran away with a famous win and more importantly the advantage of an away goal into the aggregate.
Bengaluru have their task cut out next week in Balkanabat but will need to deliver big given the slip up at home in the first leg.