Hithadhoo: Afghanistan claimed their first-ever win at the AFC Challenge Cup after recording a 3-1 win over Turkmenistan in an action packed Group B encounter at a damp Hithadhoo Stadium on Thursday.
Captain Haroon Fakhrudin headed the SAFF champions in front in first half stoppage time before Ahmad Hatifi doubled Afghanistan’s lead just after the hour mark.
Suleyman Muhadov did quickly pull a goal back for Turkmenistan, but after goalkeeper Nikita Gorbunov and defender Serdar Annaorazov were both sent-off for the two-time runners-up, an own goal from stand-in custodian Bahtiyar Hojaahmedov sealed unbeaten Afghanistan’s first win in eight AFC Challenge Cup games following Tuesday’s goalless draw with the Philippines.
“There were a lot of critical situations and a lot of emotions. I was disappointed with the first half because we made too many mistakes. We could not build up attacks and gave the ball away too easily. We could not move the ball up front so I am disappointed. We got the goal at the end of the first half and that helped us for sure, but at half-time I really had to push them as that it not the way we wanted to play,” said interim Afghanistan coach Erich Rutemoller.
“The second half we got an early goal and then I thought we would calm down and play football. Then they scored and we had more problems. Then the red cards helped us a lot, and in the end it’s a win, but this time I am not really convinced with my team.”
Afghanistan made an electric start and had the ball in the back of the net inside 40 seconds, but Belal Arezou was adjudged to have fouled Akmyrat Jumanazarov just before beating goalkeeper Gorbunov from the edge of the penalty area.
The contest, though, evened out as the half progressed and Turkmenistan striker Didar Durdiyev – fresh from his brace during the opening day win over Laos – warmed the gloves of Afghanistan goalkeeper Mansur Faqiryar with a rising strike from the edge of the penalty area 12 minutes before half-time.
And with the end of the first half being played in torrential rain, it was Turkmenistan who finished stronger as Muhadov fired a first time effort just over the Afghanistan crossbar five minutes before half-time.
But just as the clock ticked over 45 minutes, the SAFF champions took the lead as captain Fakhrudin met Faisal Shayesteh’s corner with an unstoppable bullet header from the edge of the six yard area as Afghanistan scored only their fourth goal in eight games at the AFC Challenge Cup.
Just before the hour mark, Afghanistan came close to doubling their lead as Shayesteh’s free-kick missed everyone inside the penalty area and goalkeeper Gorbunov had to be on his toes to beat away the low skidding ball.
But Afghanistan did not have to wait long to double their advantage as Hatifi met Shayesteh’s right wing delivery on the edge of the penalty area and guided his shot past Gorbunov a minute after the hour mark.
The lead, though, lasted just three minutes as Muhadov turned home a left wing cross from substitute Guvanch Abylov from the edge of the six yard area.
But with 17 minutes remaining, Turkmenistan were reduced to 10 men as goalkeeper Gorbunov was sent-off after being adjudged to have handled the ball outside of his penalty area after racing 35 yards from his goal to block at the feet of substitute Sandjar Ahmadi.
Turkmenistan had also used all of their three allocated substitutes, meaning Hojaahmedov was forced to take over in goal, and after a long delay the midfielder was almost beaten from the resulting free-kick as Ahmadi’s glancing header struck the foot of the post.
But things got worse for Turkmenistan with six minutes remaining as Annaorazov pulled back Ahmad as the substitute raced clear and the defender followed Gorbunov down the tunnel.
And two minutes later, Afghanistan sealed the win as Hojaahmedov failed to hold Shayesteh’s free-kick under his crossbar and the ball agonisingly dropped over the line.
“Before our goalkeeper was sent-off it was a good game, but after that our players lost concentration,” said Turkmenistan coach Rahim Kurbanmamedov.
“And after the second player was sent-off the players lost more concentration.”