Bengaluru to face Maziya in a battle for top spot

‘He was smashing it past me’ – England keeper Heaton on Hudson Odoi

A victory for either side in Tuesday’s AFC Cup clash between JSW Bengaluru and Maziya Sports & Recreation would see them go clear at the top of Group E.

Maldives outfit Maziya currently lead the group after beating Bangladesh’s Abahani Limited Dhaka 2-0 in their opening AFC Cup fixture, while Bengaluru also won their opening match of the group against Mohun Bagan 2-1 to sit marginally behind on goal difference.

Maziya will have the benefit of home advantage for the clash, although the trip to National Stadium in Male will not be an arduous one for their opponents.

This year’s AFC Cup is an important competition for Bengaluru, who have already seen their I-League title aspirations go up in smoke, and they will be desperate to collect all three points for this fixture.

The Southern Eagles are coming off a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Mohun Bagan in the I-League, so their preparation has hardly been ideal, but they will take heart from the fact that Maziya have yet to beat Indian opposition in the competition. Bengaluru, on the other hand, have beaten the Green and Yellows twice.

Maziya are no slouches at home, however – losing just once in their last five games.

Bengaluru will make the trip to Male without Rino Anto, Lalthuanmawia Ralte, Fanai Lalchhawnmawia and Gursimrat Singh Gill.

Eugeneson Lyngdoh is expected to take up his role in the midfield, while Sunil Chhetri will start on the left wing and Chekiyot Vineeth will front the attack.

Chhetri has a stellar record against Maziya, scoring three times in two matches.

John Johnson, Juanan, Nishu Kumar and Sandesh Jhingan are likely to provide the defensive backbone.

For Maziya, their captain Abdulla Assadhulla is expected to play a lone role up front, with much of their attacking play expected to come from the midfield, a mark of coach Marjan Sekulovski’s approach.

They also boast a strong defensive unit, with Romanian Andrei Cordos providing a strong and physical presence at the back, ably assisted by Amdaan Ali.

For Sekulovski, it’s important that his side only focus on the next game, and not think ahead.

“We don’t want to talk about chances of the knock out stages yet. We are fully focused on going match by match. If we start to talk about everything before the matches, we can’t be good at concentrating on the match,” he said.

Adding an interesting dimension to the game is the possibility of rain and thunderstorms, which have been predicted in the area on match day.