Nasaf advance after Inter-Zone thriller with Lee Man
Tashkent, Uzbekistan (UzDaily.com) -- An extra-time strike from substitute Andrija Kaluđerović sent Nasaf to the 2021 AFC Cup Final after a thrilling Inter-zone final against Lee Man of Hong Kong ended 3-2 after extra time at Markaziy Stadium on Wednesday, the-afc.com reported.
The Uzbek side looked to be cruising into the decider when an Fernando Recio own goal and Khusain Norchaev’s seventh of the tournament had them 2-0 up after 26 minutes, but the visitors produced a stirring response to force extra-time thanks to second half goals from Gil Martins and Jose Angel.
But Kaluđerović emerged as the hero, volleying home in the 106th minute as Nasaf booked a place in next month’s decider against Muharraq Club of Bahrain, who defeated Kuwait SC 2-0 in the West Zonal final on Wednesday.
Lee Man had gone further, both in the competition and in a geographical sense, than ever before, but their dreams of a sensational run to the AFC Cup final were dealt a serious blow within four minutes.
It may have been a new experience for the visitors, but it was very much a case of history repeating for Nasaf, who went ahead when Sukhrob Nurulloev’s low corner kick was turned in by Lee Man captain Fenando Recio for an own goal that mirrored the method and minute of the Uzbek side’s opener against ATK Mohun Bagan in the previous round.
A goal up, and being roared on by an enthusiastic home crowd, Nasaf assumed near total control and created chances at will in a blistering 30-minute spell.
Norchaev had a goal ruled out for offside before Oybek Bozorov hit the woodwork seconds later, and both men were involved when the second goal finally arrived in the 26th minute, with Norchaev tapping home his seventh of the tournament after goalkeeper Yuen Ho Chun spilled Bozorov’s cross after a dazzling run down the left flank.
Lee Man’s hopes were fading fast, but Chan Hiu Ming’s side never looked like folding.
The pace of striker Gil Martins gave the Nasaf defence cause for concern in the latter stages of the first half, and it was the Brazilian striker who brought them back into the game just 30 seconds after the interval.
Nasaf skipper Umarbek Eshmurudov was at fault, badly under-hitting an attempted back pass to unwittingly put Lee Man’s top scorer through with a clear sight of goal, and one he never looked like wasting from 20 yards out.
The hosts had another problem to deal with when defender Khusniddin Alikulov – an ever present throughout their campaign – was rushed off with a suspected arm injury, and there was worse to come just after the hour mark, with Lee Man conjuring the equaliser.
Gil Martins was again at the heart of it, driving into the box before being brought down by goalkeeper Umidjon Ergashev, with Angel easing home the subsequent penalty to make it 2-2 in the 64th minute.
What had earlier looked like a procession to the final for Nasaf was now an engrossing race to the finish line, with Yuen saving to deny Norchaev, and Nasaf substitute Andrija Kaluđerović hitting the woodwork in the dying seconds as the sides remained level despite the hosts’ shot tally of 27 to nine over the 90 minutes.
Their unrewarded dominance continued into extra-time, but just as Ruzikul Berdiev’s side looked to be running out of ideas, they sealed their victory through a fabulous goal from Kaluđerović, who volleyed home on the turn from 12 yards to spark wild celebrations and keep their dream of a second AFC Cup title alive.