AFC Cup 2018: Ali Ashfaq hat-trick floors 10-man Aizawl FC over at New Radiant SC

The 2016/17 I-League champions had a forgettable maiden AFC Cup group stage game over at Maldives...

Aizawl FC could only return home with a 3-1 defeat over at New Radiant SC in their very first 2018 AFC Cup Group E game at the National Stadium in Male on Wednesday.

The Reds did find the opener through Lalram Hmunmawia (33') but a hat-trick from skipper Ali Ashfaq (40', 77' and 85') meant the Maldivian champions went on top of the group standings with two wins from as many games.

Santosh Kashyap started the game defensively with a five-man back line. Laldinliana Renthlei, Hmingthan Mawia, Masih Saighani, Lalchhuanawma Varte and Lalram Hmunmawia were supported by Lalawmpuia between the sticks.

Albert Zohmingmawia, Alfred Jaryan and Andrei Ionescu made up the midfield as Leonce Dodoz and Lalkhawpuimawia were the two strikers for the I-League champions from the previous season.

Oscar Bruzon fielded a conventional 4-2-3-1 formation. With Imran Mohamed in goal, Ahmed Abdulla, Jorge Gotor, Akram Abdul Ghanee and Hisam Saleem manned the defence. Mohamed Umair and Candela were the two men in central midfield. Flanked by Hamzath Mohamed and Ali Fasir, playmaker Riham Abdul Gani had Ali Ashfaq up front. Haroon Amiri was declared unfit to start.

Aizawl got off to a good start but Andrei Ionescu messed up the finishing in both of his freekicks in the first ten minutes. Ali Fasir then had a shot saved by goalkeeper Lalawmpuia.

However, the real action began after the half-hour mark when the visitors broke the deadlock. Lalkhawpuimawia found Ionescu in the area but Imran did well to parry off the shot as he followed it up with another block from Albert's attempt. However, Lalram Hmunmawia slotted the ball into the empty net to bring up Aizawl's first ever goal in the competition.

Ali Ashfaq's exploits began with five minutes to go in the first half when found the corner of the net from Abdulla's cross from the right. Both teams had a cautious approach in the second half as the game was played mostly in the midfield.

The hosts looked more confident and with twenty minutes to go, cranked up the intensity. Hmunmawia turned villain as he was sent off for bringing down second-half substitute Guillem Marti in the 74th minute.

Umair and Ashfaq's efforts coupled with the numerical advantage bore fruit when the latter helped his side take the lead for the first time on the day. Hisam Saleem's cross was headed in by the 32-year-old as it bounced off the ground, hit the bar and entered the net before Lalawmpuia could slap the ball back.

Ashfaq then completed a perfect hat-trick as he tapped in with his left foot after Ali Fasir headed the ball down for the striker inside the box with five minutes to go.

New Radiant further consolidated their position on top the table with six points in their kitty.