Vital clash for Bengaluru FC

Vital clash for Bengaluru FC

It’s not everyday that one gets to see Sunil Chhetri so dejected but it was one of those rare instances on Tuesday.

After a damaging 0-2 loss in Male to group-toppers New Radiant SC last Wednesday, Bengaluru FC have made life extremely difficult for themselves as they aim to qualify for the knockout stages of the AFC Cup. New Radiant and Albert Roca’s side are level on points (nine points) but the former are in pole position to qualify based on the head-to-head record.

Needing to win their remaining games, BFC will take on former I-League champions Aizawl FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday, which will in all likelihood be their final home game of the season. Their last group engagement will be against Abahani Limited Dhaka in Dhaka on May 16.

“We need to make a lot of improvements. As a team, we just didn’t turn up. It was the worst performance in our whole season you could say. I don’t think any of us turned up that game.

“We sat down yesterday (Monday) and couldn’t come out with a single positive thing except for the performance of Moya (Lalthuammawia Ralte), the goalkeeper. There was no unity and we were not cohesive in the attack. We have to show a reaction and that’s what we are going to do tomorrow. We will play as if it’s the final,” said Chhetri, livid with the away loss.

In the absence of Roca, who was suspended after being sent to the stands for protesting during the home leg against the same opponents, Bengaluru named a strong starting XI but a lacklustre show from the big names now leaves them depending on other results to progress.

Wednesday isn’t likely to be any different in terms of team selection with the best line-up expected to give it their all and prove their mettle.

“People in our team know we have only two games more and they have to do everything to compete and try for that qualification. If you are not giving your 100 per cent, possibilities of winning is less. It’s not about relaxing, we have to be at our 100 per cent. Even if we are at the 90 per cent level, we will find it difficult to win. So tomorrow is a new challenge and I would like my team to change things around,” observed Roca.

A determined skipper Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Thongkhosiem Haokip could line-up up-front but it remains to be seen if Roca will opt for a three-man or four-man defence with Erik Paartalu and Juanan playing in the centre. There will be flexibility in midfield as Lenny Rodrigues and Victor Perez play pivotal roles.

Aizawl’s Romanian import Andrei Ionescu insisted his side were under no real pressure after being eliminated from the tournament and said it was about putting in a good show.

“We have a young squad but we have played in Asia before and there’s no pressure now. We can’t qualify so it’s about getting good games. There is more pressure on our opponents and I think they’ll start with their best players.”