AFC Cup Preview: Stags looking for India repeat

Tampines Rovers will go into the AFC Cup quarter-final first leg against Bengaluru in India on Wednesday looking to take full advantage of their opponent’s lack of match practice.

With the I-league’s new season yet to get underway, a revamped Bengaluru side have had to rely on a series of friendly matches for preparation, and it has not gone smoothly for new coach former Barcelona assistant Albert Roca.

Bengaluru have experienced mixed fortunes, winning two and losing two of their friendly fixtures.

It is a situation that Roca admits is not ideal.

“I can’t change the circumstances. I would have loved to play 20 friendly games and 20 competitive ones, but that isn’t possible. This is our chance to take a big step ahead in the tournament and we will give it everything we have,” he said.

The Stags, meanwhile, arrive in India in good shape, having enjoyed an eight-match winning streak under new coach Akbar Navas.

That run recently came to an end with back-to-back S-League defeats to Hougang and Home United, leaving their title challenge in the balance.

Tampines, however, will head into the game looking for a positive result despite not having seen much of their opponents.

“We don’t know much about [Bengaluru] except for some videos that we have watched. So we really have no idea about how they will play. We’ll have to wait and watch the first 15 minutes,” Navas said ahead of the match.

Nevertheless, the Stags will be confident having already triumphed on the road in India in the last round, beating Mohun Bagan 1-2 after extra time despite playing almost 70 minutes with 10 men after left back Shakir Hamzah was dismissed.

Wednesday’s game will be played behind closed doors after recent unrest in Bengaluru lead to security concerns. The tense situation meant Tampines were forced to train on the car park outside the team’s hotel on Monday because of a curfew that has been enforced in the city.

Key men:
Jordan Webb (Tampines)
The Canadian frontman is in good form this season having hit 10 goals in the S-League and poses a threat with his direct running. Tampines will look to utilise his pace to unlock the Bengaluru defence in the hope of snatching a vital away goal.

Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru)
The 32-year old striker is a legend in India with 51 goals in 91 games for the Indian national team. Chhetri bagged two goals in the last round to give Bengaluru an upset win against Kitchee in Hong Kong and the experienced frontman will pose a threat that Tampines will need to counter.