Finalists of the competition in 2016-17, Bengaluru FC will look to get their AFC Cup campaign off to the perfect start when they take on I-League rivals Mohun Bagan for a second time in four days at the Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
Albert Roca’s team created history last November in Doha by becoming the first Indian club to make the final of a continental competition when they played eventual champions and Iraqi side Air Force Club who edged the Blues 1-0. And while Roca said his team would draw confidence from that phenomenal run, he admitted that the slate was clean and the attempt for an encore would only be tougher. “What we achieved last season in this competition was special. But now we are back to square one and we will have to work twice as hard. The fact that we made the final last year does give us confidence but it doesn’t let us take anything for granted,” said the Spaniard.
A tweak in the format this year pits two Indian clubs against each other for the first time in the competition, adding to the history that this new yet fierce rivalry Bengaluru and Bagan share.
The two sides played out an entertaining and furiously-paced 0-0 draw on Saturday and with only 48 hours to recover, it would be interesting to see whether Round Two will be as intense on the physical front. “The schedule is punishing and tomorrow’s game will be our fourth in nine days. But we’ve got work around the circumstances and deliver. We had a recovery session on Sunday and I’m confident that the boys will have enough to give what is a very important game, everything,” said Roca.
Though the Blues have been batting indifferent form in the League, there have been a fair number of positives from recent performances that Roca’s boys can take into the game on Tuesday. John Johnson’s return to the side has brought with it some much-needed stability at the back, while young Nishu Kumar has been growing in confidence with every passing game in the left-back position. Eugeneson Lyngdoh was handed a start on Saturday and the midfielder showed glimpses of the confidence he had been missing as the Blues took the fight to Bagan in an inspired second half showing.
New signing Marjan Jugovic, who has AFC experience, got close to 30 minutes on the weekend and it’s left to be seen if Roca deems him ready to start against the Kolkata club.
“The game against Bagan was a tough one but I am very pleased with the way we took the fight to a good team that is contending for the League title. Let’s hope we can finish our chances on Tuesday.”
Meanwhile Bagan will look to use the threat of winger Sony Norde who was kept quiet all evening by the Bengaluru defence. Coach Sanjoy Sen has options in attack in Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh and the latter, in all likelihood, could be handed another start.
(Bengaluru FC Press Release)