The Blues trail Istiklol FC by a solitary goal but would need a performance that mirrors their semi-final against Johor last year to reach their 2nd final in 2 years.
If one were to see the final score after the first leg of the AFC Cup Inter-zonal final between Istiklol FC and Bengaluru FC, one would feel that coming into the second leg at home, the Blues are the favourites to progress to the final.
Albert Roca‘s men were on the defensive for a majority of the game and only a late surge gave Blues fans some hope that they could turn this game around. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu showed fans why he was so highly rated and kept his team in the hunt with some spectacular saves.
While Roca’s decision to adopt a defensive route against a free-scoring opponent might have been vindicated with the scoreline, he will no doubt need to tweak his approach in the second leg at Bengaluru on 18th October 2017. The Blues need to take the attack to the Tajiks if they are to entertain any hopes of making to a final which can see the Kanteerava host the match.
The incessant rains which have lashed the city in the last week or so may make playing conditions difficult at the Sri Kanteerava Stadium, but Bengaluru did not let this faze them in the 3-0 win over April 25 SC and they will need to channel a similar spirit to overcome a tough opponent.
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.
Roca’s decision to bring in Harmanjot Khabra in the second half added much-needed energy to the side as the Blues were being pressed and harried off the ball with tremendous regularity. Khabra’s tireless running and overlaps with Udanta Singh will be useful in putting pressure on the Istiklol defence and open up passing lanes for the creative players in the Bengaluru ranks. Despite Lenny Rodrigues’ sub-par performance in the first leg, he is expected to retain his place in the lineup alongside Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu.
Tactical System (Probable)
How Bengaluru FC could lineup in a 4-3-3 formation
As expected, Gurpreet would be taking his place in goal as it was his tremendous reading of the game and agility which was primarily responsible for keeping the scoreline to 1-0.
Harmanjot Khabra and Nishu Kumar are expected to perform wing-back duties to support Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri while maintaining defensive solidarity considering the pace that Istiklol possess in their ranks. Juanan and Rahul Bheke will continue to be the pillars in defence with Erik Paartalu or Lenny Rodrigues dropping into defence to form a 3-man backline.
Man to Watch
Sunil Chhetri-Bengaluru FC: The India skipper is no stranger to big occasions and this is nothing short of one. The 33-year old inspired his team in 2016 against Johor to reach their first ever AFC Cup final and is in prime position to repeat that feat. He will be wary of Istiklol’s attempt to mark him out of the game which is why he would need to be given full license to roam around the pitch to cause maximum damage.
The AFC Cup Preview: Istiklol FC vs Bengaluru FC
Manchuker Dzhalilov-Istiklol FC: The 26-year old Tajik striker was expected to add to his tally of 7 goals in the competition, but was unable to do so in the first leg. But he is expected to be given another opportunity to try his luck at Bengaluru.
“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 mature than us, given they have just finished the league as champions.”
The boys had some fun in training!
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.