Bengaluru FC have done reasonably well in the previous editions of the AFC Cup, reaching the final in 2016 and then reaching the Inter-Zonal final in 2017. But they could not emulate those performances this time around as they were defeated 5-2 on aggregate by Altyn Asyr in the Inter-Zonal semifinal.
On Wednesday, the Blues succumbed to a 0-2 loss in the second leg of the semi-final against the Turkmen champions. The result has sent them crashing out of this year's AFC Cup.
It is indeed the collective failure as a team rather than individual errors that brought this fate upon the Blues and the manner in which they were outplayed is a cause for concern. The Indian Super League (ISL) finalists never looked like they would win the tie.
And for the first time in three years, the team are without continental competition for at least the next 16 months.
The first-half display in the first leg of the semi-final against Altyn Asyr at the Kanteerava Stadium made such a huge impact if we are to break down the aggregate scoreline. Under new head coach Carles Cuadrat, the team from Karnataka failed to turn up for the first half and handed the initiative to the opponents at their home turf.
Bengaluru's 14-match unbeaten AFC Cup run at home was brought to an end by Altyn Asyr when they beat them 3-2 on August 22. The major reason for that loss was the sluggish start to match by the home team and instead of taking initiative in familiar conditions before a difficult journey abroad. The Blues were down by two goals at the break.
An improved second-half had seen Bengaluru reduce the deficit to just one goal. If the poor first-half last week could be attributed to pre-season fitness issues, what about a lack of quality a week later when the team knew they needed to win by at least two goals?
Carles Cuadrat had a week to prepare for a difficult match away from home and yet, Bengaluru had zero shots on target in the first half. Coach Hojageldiýew's squad, which did not have a single player from outside Turkmenistan, were far superior over the two legs.
The new coach will need time to get his team organized. While Xisco and Paartalu can work together in tandem, the return of Dimas Delago will add strength to this midfield. Up front, the experiment with Nishu Kumar as the left winger has not worked so far and will require patience.
Although Chhetri, Miku and Udanta Singh combined to form a formidable attacking trio last season, Altyn Asyr were able to keep the danger men silent for most of the four halves. But the major concern for Cuadrat will be the defence.
Rino Anto's 'homecoming' was a confusing move. The right-back who was injured for the majority of last season at Kerala Blasters started both the legs in the semi-final. He struggled with the pace of the game in both games and was replaced at the hour-mark in the second-leg as a desperate Bengaluru tried to get back into the game. Rino, a natural full-back, was partnered with Juanan in the centre of defence and the defensive disorganization only made matters worse.
The AFC Cup knockout fixture probably came too soon for the ISL side but the timing cannot be an excuse. For a team that has been enjoying a good run in Asia, the manner in which they were outfoxed over the two legs was disappointing.
Teams in ISL have been working their socks off to improve their squad and the competition is only going to be tougher each season. Bengaluru's next ticket to Asia depends on a league win and with that in mind, Carles Cuadrat needs to get back to the drawing board.