The Blues travel to the strife-torn country in search of a positive result as they seek to make the competition’s group phase.
Despite the prevailing unrest in Maldives, Bengaluru FC make the trip to the capital Male for the first leg of the AFC Asian Cup Preliminary playoff against TC Sports Club on Tuesday night at the Rasmee Dhandu Stadium.
At stake for both the sides is place in the group stage of the 2018 AFC Cup where they will join Aizawl FC, New Radiant (Maldives) and Dhaka Abahani (Bangladesh) as the other qualified teams from South Asia in Group E.
Domestically, Bengaluru FC are on a roll, 5 points clear at the top and already assured of a place in the play-offs, the Blues are on a 5 game winning streak and are currently the team to beat in the ISL. Albert Roca’s men have been playing with a fluidity that hasn’t been seen much from other teams in the league.
The coach is expected to field a second string side, similar to the one that lined up against Transport United of Bhutan in the previous round of the competition with many of the players from the reserves making up the numbers. The Blues have a favourable history in the competition to look back upon having made the knockout rounds atleast in their previous three forays including the momentous appearance in the 2016 final.
The home side TC Sports Club qualified for the preliminary stage of the competition finishing runners up in the Dhivehi Premier League, the top tier in Maldivian Football structure in the 2017 season. The team coached by former Maldives National team captain Mohamed Nizam lost only twice in the season, both times to the champions New Radiant with whom they have the opportunity to meet again should they get past Bengaluru FC. They were impressive in their clash against Saif of Bangladesh in the previous round whom they beat 4-1 over two legs winning in both the games.
Though the Blues opponents for this time are an upgrade over Transport United, Albert Roca is expected to go in with a similar playing eleven from last time, speaking at the press conference, the gaffer said, “Nobody can play all the games, and I have to give an opportunity to everyone. I am happy with the squad as they have performed well even in difficult situations.”
He also added “A draw away from home isn’t a bad result, especially tomorrow where we’ll play against a team which is better than our previous opponent.” Having not been involved in the last match Udanta Singh, Erik Paartalu and Harmanjot Khabra can be expected to make the trip to Male. Staying consistent with his policy of rotating the squad and handing players rest, Roca has made the trip without names like Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Juanan Gonzalez and Dimas Delgado among others.
For the home side, with no domestic football to worry about at this time coach Nizam can expect to have the whole roster available to him and would pick his strongest possible eleven to cause an upset over a comparatively much stronger side.
This is the first time the two sides are facing-of each other. However, The Blues have a 100% win record away and at home against Maldivian clubs, having got the better of Maziya S&RC twice in previous editions of the AFC Cup.”
Man to Watch
Anatoliy Vlasichev- TC Sports Club- He is a 29 year old former Kyrgyzstan International who plays primarily as an attacking midfielder but can also play on the wings. Predominantly left footed, Anatoliy played in a lot of clubs in Asia and brings in loads of experience to the team. He scored all the 4 goals in the two legs in his team’s 4-1 victory over Saif and he’s someone Albert Roca’s men would have to keep an eye on.
Boithang Haokip- Bengaluru FC A versatile player who plays in midfield as well as slot in at defence, he opened the scoring in the home game against Transport United. Haokip has a good work rate and is a long range shooter besides being good with both feet. He is also known as the ‘David Beckham of the NorthEast’ for his stylish and accurate free kicks. Though game time has been limited for the talented player in the ISL, he would look to make most of these opportunities in the AFC Cup games.
TC Sports- Dimitri, Haneef, Farrah, Azzam, Azzam Mohamed, Waheed Hassan, Yamin, Vlasichev, Rilwan, Solah, Ishan
Bengaluru FC- Lalthuammawia Ralte, Khabra, Bheke, Nishu Kumar, Subhashish Bose, Paartalu, Boithang Haokip, Malswmzuala, Udanta Singh, Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Semboi Haokip