Indonesia Super League giants Arema Cronus gave their hopes of making the AFC Cup Round of 16 a boost on Tuesday after claiming a 3-2 win over Group F rivals Maziya.
Arema were cruising to victory at the Kanjuhuran Stadium after goals from Cristian Gonzales and Gustavo Lopez within a minute handed them a healthy halftime lead, but Amdhan Ali pulled one back for the visitors in the 62nd minute.
Three minutes later, the Maldivian outfit remarkably equalised thanks to Abdulla Ibrahim’s close-range strike but right at the death, Gonzales headed home his second of the evening to hand his side all three points.
After picking up just one points from their opening two Group F games, Arema got their campaign back on track two weeks ago with a 3-1 win over Maziya at the Galolhu National Stadium.
And on Tuesday, they started brightly and created their first chance after nine minutes when Dendi Santoso made a darting run to the near post to meet a corner, only to send a header just wide of the far corner.
Dendi had another chance in the 12th minute after latching onto a neat by Gustavo and lashing a powerful strike at goal, but Mohamed Imran produced a fine stop to deny him.
A minute later, the Maziya keeper was called into action once more and did well again to keep out a blistering 25-yard volley from Hendro Siswanto at full stretch, after a corner had been cleared to the Indonesia international.
By now, it seemed only a matter of time before the hosts edged ahead, and that duly happened five minutes before the half-hour mark; Hendro finding space down the left and floating a lovely cross that was headed into the bottom corner by Gonzales.
Barely half a minute later, it was 2-0 as Gustavo doubled Arema’s lead with a moment of inspiration as he turned cleverly on the edge of the box after receiving possession from Ahmad Bustomi, before blasting an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Maziya did have a chance to pull one back in the 28th minute when the ball fell into his path after some haphazard defending from the opposition, but the chance went begging as he could only fire wide from eight yards.
It was then Arema’s turn to carve out an opportunity a minute before halftime as Beto burst free down the right before lofting the ball to Dendi, who was unable to keep his half-volley on target from just outside the six-yard box.
However, the comfortable advantage did see the hosts take their foot off the pedal when the second half got underway, which gradually saw the momentum swing into the Maldivian outfit’s favour.
And two minutes after the hour mark, they pulled one back after Desmond Mansaray picked up possession on the left and floated an excellent ball straight to Amdhan, who made no mistake in sending a header past Kurnia Meiga Hermansyah.
If Arema coach Suharno had been displeased with the way Amdhan had been left unmarked, he would have been fuming three minutes later as more hesitant defending allowed the opposition to pull level.
Despite Maziya struggling to create a sighting at goal, the hosts were just unable to clear their lines and the ball eventually rolled to the far post, where Abdulla Ibrahim was lurking and proceeded to smash a shot from a tight angle into the back of the net.
Aware that they were genuinely at risk of throwing away what would have been a routine three points, Arema stepped up a gear in their search of a third goal.
Gonzales was looming as their likeliest source and headed wide from a Samsul Arif cross wide in the 73rd minute, before sending a rocket of a left-footed strike back off the bar four minutes later.
Abdulla then nearly undid his good work five minutes from time when – in an attempt to intercept a pass – he inadvertently sent the ball looping towards his own goal, but Imran reacted well to tip it wide.
Nonetheless, as the clock ticked over into injury-time, Maziya’s resistance finally broke as Victor Igbonefo met a long ball and flicked it on to Gonzales, who clinically nodded the ball over Imran and into the far corner to win it for the Indonesian side.
Arema Cronus: Kurnia Meiga Hermansyah, Beny Wahyudi, Victor Igbonefo, Thierry Gathuessi, Johan Alfarizi, Ahmad Bustomi (Sunarto 76’), Hendro Siswanto (Juan Revi 67’), Gustavo Lopez, Beto (Samsul Arif 61’), Dendi Santoso, Cristian Gonzales.
Maziya: Mohamed Imran, Rilwan Waheed (Imran Ali 51’), Abdulla Ibrahim, Amdhan Ali, Samdhooh Mohamed, Moosa Yaamin, Mohamed Arif (Ahmed Mohamed 54’), Ahmed Nashid (Shifaz Hassan 75’), Desmond Mansaray, Ashad Ali, Abdulla Asadhulla.