A controversial penalty helped the Central Coast Mariners to a narrow 2-1 win away at Bali United in Thursday’s AFC Cup action. The Serdadu Tridatu had fought valiantly at a packed Kapten I Wayan Dipta Stadium as they took the game to their Australian opponents, however their wasteful finishing, combined with the aforementioned penalty, meant that Stefano Cugurra Teco’s men were left unable to win their group and had to contend on fighting for the best runners-up spot for ticket to the zonal play-offs.
Two-time Indonesian champions Bali United went behind in the 13th minute, after former VfB Stuttgart man Alou Kuol had taken advantage of a Jacob Farrell ball to beat goalkeeper Adilson Maringa with an excellent finish, but spurred on by their faithful supporters, the Serdadu Tridatu wasted no time in drawing things level.
After Yabes Roni had tested veteran goalkeeper Danny Vukovic with his effort in the 16th minute, two minutes later Jefferson Assis managed to break his way into the Central Coast defense, before the Brazilian danger man lashed home a powerful shot that went beyond Vukovic’s reaches.
In the 29th minute, Central Coast right-back Mikael Doka launched a free-kick from a distance of 20 yards, but it sailed over the target. Meanwhile, at the other end, Vukovic had to make a save in the 34th minute, tipping a Mohammed Rashid volley from a distance over the goal.
Both teams ended the first half with a 1-1 stalemate, but Bali United came close to taking the lead three minutes into the second half. Jajang Mulyana’s header from an Eber Bessa free-kick narrowly missed the Central Coast goal.
In the 56th minute, Kuol missed the target with a header from a corner, but shortly after the hour mark, he was involved in the match’s controversial moment. Ardi Idrus was adjudged to have fouled Kuol within the penalty box, however replays suggested that the former Persib Bandung defender had hacked the ball off Kuol before making contact with the winger instead of the other way round, a clear sign of a clean tackle.
Nonetheless, the penalty was still given anyway and Marco Tulio did not waste his chance, beating Maringa from the spot to give the Mariners the lead.
Bali United had a chance to equalize in the 68th minute, but Irfan Jaya couldn’t keep his shot down after a setup by fellow substitute M. Rachmat.
Despite the hosts pressing in the closing minutes, including Jean Befolo Mbarga’s overhead kick flying wide in the 86th minute, Central Coast held on to secure the three points, much to the disappointment of the Bali United faithful. However, the Serdadu Tridatu could take pride that they’ve managed to take the game to their far superior opponents, with only their inability to make their chances count and the controversial penalty being the architects of their downfall.