The Blues are 2 steps away from competing in a second AFC Cup final in as many years as they take on a high-flying Istiklol outfit.
The 2016 AFC Cup finalists are on a hot streak and look more menacing than they were last year. But they will now be facing a team that also know what it means to compete in a final. Istiklol FC were runners-up in the 2015 AFC Cup and have a perfect record at home with four wins out of four.
While Bengaluru really had little information about 4.25 SC to go with prior to their Inter-zonal semi-final clash, there would be no such situations with regards to Istiklol who gave an indication of their attacking nous when they despatched Filipino side Ceres Negros 5-1 on aggregate which included a thumping 4-0 victory at home.
Albert Roca will be aware of the advantage of having the second leg at home in front of their home fans. In addition, if Bengaluru FC win both their games against Istiklol, there exists the possibility of the AFC Cup final of 2017 being hosted at the Sri Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. The thought of playing a continental final in front of their home fans provides added incentive for the Steelmen to put up a strong performance against an opponent who would not make things easy.
Bengaluru FC can not only become the first Indian club ever to make it to two AFC Cup final but can also host the event if they defeat FC Istiklol over two-legs.
Albert Roca will have no doubt kept a sharp eye on Istiklol’s performance against Ceres Negros to know that his side will need a solid defensive performance at the Hisor Central Stadium. Zohmingliana Ralte will be travelling with the squad in place of Joyner Lourenco. The remainder of the squad remains the same as that which travelled to Pyongyang.
Tactical System (Probable)
How Bengaluru FC could lineup in a 4-3-3 formation
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will continue to take his place between the sticks as he never let his AFC Cup debut for Bengaluru faze him. He was an assured presence in goal when 4.25 SC had their period of domination at Bengaluru. His experience and organization skills would be of paramount importance against an Istiklol side not hesitant in going forward.
Roca may opt for a cautious approach given that Istiklol will look to set a precedent for the second leg in Bengaluru. The Spaniard has opted for a 3-4-1-2 system that allows his attacking players the freedom they need to cause maximum damage.
However, Roca may look to hold the fort and hit the opposition on the counter as the team is not short on pace in the form of Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Nishu Kumar and Harmanjot Khabra. Defensively, Lenny and Dimas Delgado will maintain more defensive positions as opposed to the first leg against 4.25 SC where Delgado and Erik Paartalu were seen in more advanced positions while Lenny played his pseudo centre-half role.
Man to Watch
Sunil Chhetri-Bengaluru FC: The India skipper and Bengaluru talisman will look to repeat his feats from last year’s semifinal against Johor and doing it against a prolific opponent like Istiklol will just be the icing on the cake. The 32-year old looks fitter and hungrier than ever to win the AFC Cup and his skill on and off the ball are vital for Bengaluru’s chances in this tie.
The AFC Cup Preview: Istiklol FC vs Bengaluru FC
Manchuker Dzhalilov-Istiklol FC: The 26-year old Tajik striker has been in sublime form for the Crowns with 7 goals in the AFC Cup, holding the rank of the tournament’s top scorer. The striker is not goal shy as seen from his goal tally of 58 goals from 46 games for the club ever since his move to the club in 2015.
“We know how close we are to a shot at the final but we’ve kept that out of our thoughts for the moment. Over the next two games, it’s only Istiklol that we are concerned about. It’s going to be tough to get a good result against a team that has played a final before, but we are motivated to give our best. They are more matured than us, given they have just finished the league as champions.”
Know Your Opponents
Istiklol FC won the 2011 Tajikistan League with a GD of 116, scoring 130 goals en route, conceding just 14. Dilshod Vasiev has been in fiery form in the National League, scoring 111 goals in five seasons.
The game is not live on TV. But, you can follow live streaming of the game on AFC Cup Facebook Page. You can also follow the coverage on Khel Now. The match starts at 19:30 PM IST.