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Bengaluru: Sunil Chhetri believes clinical counter-attacking and solid defence work was behind JSW Bengaluru’s 3-0 AFC Cup Inter-Zone semi-final victory over DPR Korea’s 4.25 SC on Wednesday night.

South Asian Zone champions Bengaluru went into the game with a perfect home record in the continental competition, having won three from three, but faced a 4.25 who themselves had been crowned East Asian Zone champions after winning Group I back in May.

But, after soaking up the pressure in the first half hour at a saturated Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Chhetri opened the scoring with a 'Panenka’ from the spot, before his chip to the back post allowed Lenny Rodrigues to add a crucial third with 12 minutes remaining.

 

“We worked really hard because it wasn’t easy in the first half until we scored the goal,” said Chhetri.

“They were quite solid and only when we scored the goal did they become a little bit more desperate and that worked for us because we could sit back and counter.”

“But until that time, it was hard work and they were very good and everyone was comfortable on the ball. Thankfully, we got the goal and then we sat back and hit them on the counter.”

The visitors started the brighter and controlled the majority of the possession in the early stages as they took the game to the 2016 runners-up.

But shortly after the 30-minute mark, the lively Udanta Singh was upended by goalkeeper Ri Kang as he ran through on goal, before Chhetri dispatched the penalty with aplomb.

Singh then added a second six minutes after the interval before Rodrigues put the gloss on a fine result that means Bengaluru will go to Pyongyang in three weeks’ time as strong favourites to advance to the Inter-Zone final.

“Once the goalkeeper moved, it made it easier for me,” explained Chhetri when quizzed on his penalty. “It wasn’t pre-planned but because he went very early, it made it easier.

“Yes, there’s now a cushion of three goals, but it’s not going to be easy at all. I wish Daniel [Lalhlimpuia] had got the fourth but I don’t want to be greedy.

“If somebody had said you’re going to get 3-0 before the game started, I would have taken it happily.”

The win leaves 4.25 with a mountain to climb in the reverse fixture and in the knowledge that another goal by Bengaluru would all but kill the tie after the East Asians struggled to play their game on the saturated pitch.

Chhetri, though, was keen to praise how his team coped with the conditions in a game that started in the rain but was played in torrential downpour from early in the second half.

“I learnt that we are a fit side because it’s not easy to play in the rain – there’s a lot of toil on your hamstrings and your lower body, but everyone gave a good account of themselves.

“The coach wanted us to defend well as we knew they would have the ball and attack us. We were told to make sure we hit them on the counter-attack but, no matter what, everyone had to come back and defend and that’s what we did.”

Photos: Lagardère Sports

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