In what has the potential to be a comeback story for the ages, Bengaluru FC will face off against Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol as both sides go to battle for a place in the 2017 AFC Cup final at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, on Wednesday.
Having gone down 1-0 in Dushanbe, Albert Roca’s side will need to beat the Tajik champions by a two-goal margin if they are to get a shot at revenge with last year’s winners Air Force Club (Iraq) who have booked their place in the final for a second year running. Moreover, with both teams finishing runners-up in the last two editions of the competition, either team will be motivated with the prospect of playing the final in front of their home support this time around.
Coming into the game, visitors Istiklol who arrived in the city on Monday, have been boosted by the return of Ghanaian midfielder David Mawutor and Tajik midfielder Juraboev Amirbek while Ukraine defender Artem Baranavskyi continues to serve a suspension.
Banking on their counter-attacking skills, the Tajik side managed to create a host of chances in the first leg, but were denied on most occasions by a resolute defensive performance at the back by the Blues, who dominated possession throughout the game. However, having been denied a penalty in the closing stages of the game, Bengaluru FC will be hoping to move on and get the desired result at the Fortress.
Building up to the game, the Blues utilized their three-week break between the ties training in the city before a short camp at the BFC Residential Academy in Bellary last week. Having completed a few sessions at the Kanteerava, and the return of national team players, the hosts are geared up for one of the biggest games of the season. With no suspensions or injuries to worry about, the Blues will have a full-strength squad at their disposal as they aim to turn around the tie.
Speaking on the eve of the game, Head Coach Albert Roca said, “We all know the permutations and combinations now and it’s simple for us. We need to win by two goals, and so we need to get off to a good start. It won’t be easy against Istiklol who will be hard to break down, but there’s no turning back and we will go all out to get the result.”
With the team back in familiar conditions, and a natural turf to play on, Roca wants his team to make most of the home advantage. For the record, the Blues haven’t lost at the Fortress in the AFC Cup this season logging four successive wins, scoring eight goals and conceding just one. With fans playing an important role during this campaign, the Coach didn’t shy away from highlighting their role as the team’s 12th man.
“We have a good record at home this season, and it gives us a boost ahead of the game. The fans have been great so far, and I know that the atmosphere they’ll create will give our players that extra motivation during the game. They have always been there behind us and we want to give them another reason to cheer,” said Roca as he urged fans to support in numbers.
Should the game finish 1-0 to the Blues at the end of regulation time, extra-time will be played followed by penalty kicks. The game kicks off under floodlights at 7 PM IST and will be streamed live on AFC’s Facebook channel.