Mahindra hold Nejmeh 3-3;injury time penalty robbed them semi-final

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Beirut, Sept 26 (UNI) Mahindra United missed a well-deserved AFC Cup semi-final berth after conceding an injury time penalty goal as they held Lebanese powerhouse Al Nejmeh 3-3 in their away leg quarter-final tie here.

Mahindra, who lost 1-2 in their home leg in New Delhi on September 18, were leading 3-2 and well on course to their first ever AFC Cup semi-final on better away goal rule only to shockingly see it slip away when Nejmeh's Serbian import Milan Bugonovic scored from a spot kick in the fifth minute of added time to send his side to semi-finals on 5-4 aggregate late last night.

Goalkeeper Sandi Nandy, who warmed the bench for Subhasish Roy Chowdhury in the home leg, brought down Nejmeh substitute Zakaria Charara inside the penalty box and Milan Bogunovic cooly converted the resultant penalty to the shock of the Indians who had to lose after coming tantalisingly close to their maiden semi-final in Asia's second tier club competition.

By then Nejmeh had also been reduced to ten men after striker Mohammad Ghaddar was shown the red card for unsporting behaviour in the 86th minute.

Leading 2-0 midway in the first half through goals from Ghaddar (12th minute) and Ante Milas (23rd), Nejmeh had appeared well on course for victory.

But the Mumbai side made a remarkable comeback and pulled one back through Congolese striker Edson Minga in the 33rd minute before Harpreet Singh (64th) and Ghanaian Andrews Pomeyie (78th) found the net in the second half to go 3-2 up and 4-4 in aggregate, a result which would have sent Mahindra into last four on away goals (three away goals for Mahindra to two by Nejmeh).

But, Bogunovic's last gasp strike saw Nejmeh progress into the semi-finals to be played on October 2 and 23, their third in a row, to set up against Jordan 's Shabab Al Ordun who also advanced on 5-3 aggregate despite losing 0-3 to Singapore Armed Forces in their away leg in Singapore.

Nejmeh were the better side in the first half and, cheered by a sparse crowd of around 1000 spectators in the stands due to security reasons, they applied the early pressure and found the lead in the 12th minute when Lebanese international striker Ghaddar, who netted both of their goals in New Delhi, scored his fifth goal of the competition, heading home a cross from the right flank.

The hosts should have extended their lead two minutes later when Ghaddar was denied in a one-on-one situation with Mahindra goalkeeper Nandy.

Nejmeh got their second of the night in the 23rd minute as Ali Wasef Mohammed made his way down the left flank before crossing for Croatian striker Ante Milas, who beat two Mahindra defenders before chipping the ball past Nandy.

Just as it seemed all over for Mahindra, Minga pulled one back in the 33rd minute when a long ball from the back found the Congolese import unmarked and he bore down on the Nejmeh goal before firing the ball past goalkeeper Abdou Tafeh.

Nejmeh went close to restoring their two-goal cushion in the 51st minute when Khaled Hamieh's cross from the left was met by an unmarked Ghaddar who headed wide.

The visiting Indian side then stunned the hosts in the 64th minute as a free kick from the left by Steven Dias was headed home by Harpreet Singh from close range.

Mahindra then took the lead in the 78th minute through Ghanaian import Andrews Pomeyie, who was left unmarked at the edge of the area and advanced into the box before firing a powerful shot past Abdou Tafeh.

From a seemingly comfortable position, Nejmeh were heading out of the competition on away goals and their troubles increased when they were reduced to 10 men after Ghaddar was shown the red card for unsporting behaviour.

Ten-man Nejmeh, though nearly equalised in the 90th minute as Bogunovic's free kick from 30 metres came back off the post.

But, the Serbian defender would not be denied in the fifth minute of stoppage time when Nejmeh were awarded a spot kick after Nandy brought down substitute Zakaria Charara and Bogunovic successfully converted it to send his side through to the last four.

Meanwhile, defending champions Jordan's Al Faisaly were on course to their third title in a row as they set up a semi-final clash against their domestic league rivals Al Wihdat, which also completes West Asian domination in the competition with all four semi-finalists coming from the region.

Both the Jordanian sides won their home and away legs with Faisaly winning 7-3 on aggregates over Tampines Rovers of Singapore while Wihdat were 4-1 aggregate winners over Sun Hei of Hong Kong.

UNI

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