North Korea: Bengaluru Football Club played out a creditable goalless draw against April 25 SC of North Korea to make it to the inter-zone final of the AFC Cup on 3-0 aggregate on Wednesday.
Last edition’s runners-up side Bengaluru went into Inter-Zone Semifinal match with a 3-0 victory in the home leg last month and they produced a solid performance to deny the home side any goal at the May Day Stadium.
They now face Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol, the 2015 finalists, in the two-legged Inter-Zone Finals. Istiklol had beaten Ceres Negros FC of Philippines on 5-1 aggregate in the other Inter-Zone Semifinals.
Bengaluru will travel to Tajikistan on 27 September before they host Istiklol in the decisive Inter-Zone Final second leg at Sree Kanteerava Stadium on October 18.
The winner of that match will face either Syria’s Al Wahda or Air Force Club of Iraq in the 2017 AFC Cup final on 4 November.
The Indian side was short of practice time as it reached Pyongyang only on Monday due to North Korea’s Foundation Day Celebrations but it held the fort well and came out triumphant.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who joined Bengaluru last month, was the hero for the visiting side as he saved a penalty kick in the 75th minute of the match.
The India number one keeper Gurpreet guessed correctly to make the save and successfully preserve his clean sheet.
Bengaluru scored three goals without any reply in the first meeting between the two sides in Bengaluru on August 23 thanks to Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Lenny Rodrigues, but there were no such fireworks at May Day Stadium with both teams drawing a blank in front of goal.
Head coach Alberto Roca named an unchanged XI from their 3-0 first-leg win in Bengaluru as he persisted with the 4-3-3 formation with Udanta Singh, Sunil Chhetri, and Toni Dovale as the front-three.
The North Korean side named their top-scorer in the AFC Cup, Kim Yu-Song, in their starting lineup after a slight niggle had prevented him starting in the first-leg.
The Jindal Steel Works (JSW) owned outfit dominated the midfield as Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado and Lenny Rodrigues took control of the center of the park from their North Korean counterparts.
Only 6,500 spectators came to the watch the match.