Free Press Journal

History beckons Bengaluru


Will seek to become the first Indian club to enter the final of AFC

Bengaluru : On the verge of scripting history, Bengaluru FC will seek to become the first Indian club to enter the final of AFC Cup when they lock horns with defending champions Johor Darul Takzim in the semifinal of the premier event here today.

On earlier occasions, two Indian clubs — East Bengal and Dempo — had reached the semifinals.

The match at Sree Kanteerava Stadium will be the fourth meeting between Bengaluru FC and Malaysian club Johor Darul Takzim in this edition of the tournament.

The two were clubbed together in the group stage and the Malaysian giants had won both the home and away matches. However, in the semifinal, Bengaluru did not let the hosts dominate them and came back with a crucial away goal.

The hosts are coming into the match with an advantage of scoring an away goal, but they are not taking anything for granted.

“If we want to be in the finals, we have to score a goal or two. The away goal is simply a consolation,” Albert Roca, BFC coach, told reporters on the eve of the match.

Despite the absence of key rival players, Bengaluru FC know it is important to guard against complacency. The visitors will be without Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Juan Martin Lucero and Amri Yahyah.

“This team is still champion of the competition. They are still the favorites. It is not going to be easy. It is going to be a tough mission, but we are ready for it. We have shown we are competitive in the past and we have to show it again, tomorrow,” Roca said.

Also their replacements are as competent as the suspended players, Roca said.

“It would be a fiercest mistake to consider tomorrow’s match easy. They have good replacements — both are good national players and could be more competitive than the suspended Argentinian players,” he said.

BFC have been good in maintaining possession, but they have struggled to score adequately, leaving Roca to work on plugging this vital loophole.

In the last encounter alone, the hosts had only 10 shots at the net compared to JDT’s 24.

“It is not that the players are not capable of scoring goals. We have just played three games and it will be unfair to say we have not been able to score goals due to change in the style of football. Our players did score in the past and can do it tomorrow,” he said.

Johor have been left short of options with the absence of their three key players but former Malaysian international Safee Sali comes in as the substitute striker.

Although the game would not be easy for Safee because he will be making a comeback after warming the bench for some time, his presence will be a key as the visitors do not have a genuine striker.

Amirul Hadi Zainal could be blooded into the squad and partner Hariss Harun in central midfield, pushing Safiq higher up to play behind Safee. Left-winger Azinee Taib is another option to play with Safee up front.

S Kunanlan, who got injured in the first leg, is also back in training and could start today.

Chettri’s warning…

Bengaluru FC will start with a slight edge against Johor Darul Ta’zim in today’sAFC Cup semifinals second leg with an away goal in hand and a couple of opposition players not playing but captain Sunil Chhetri says that his side can lower their guard only at their peril.

“The last time we played against them they beat us 2-1 by fielding local players. So, that is the potential and caliber of JDT players,” Chhetri told PTI in an interview.

“They are very strong side, but I am really positive. We fancy ourselves here. That’s the kind of vibe this ground gives me. Even the game we played against Iran and Oman — both international matches — I felt we could win,” said Chhetri, who is also India captain.

Asked about the absence of two rival strikers tomorrow, Chhetri said their absence would not matter much as JDT were defending champions and they have enough bench strength.

“The absence of some of their key players due to injuries do not matter much. JDT is very good team. They have 50 good players to replace,” he said.

Chhetri is also not thinking too much about the away goal Bengaluru FC scored in the first leg and said the focus in the second leg today would be to score a goal and not to concede one.