A 3-0 win at home putting them in the drivers’ seat, last edition finalists Bengaluru FC would look to guard against complacency when they take on North Korean side 4.2C 25 in the away leg Inter-Zone Semifinal match of the AFC Cup in Pyongyang on Wednesday.
After an inconsistent group stage, 2016 runners-up Bengaluru produced their most convincing performance of the competition in the first-leg win over 4.25 SC last month and
they would look to seal a berth in the Inter-Zone Finals with a strong show at the May Day Stadium on Wednesday.
Star striker Sunil Chhetri’s dinked penalty calmed any nerves at Sree Kanteerava Stadium on August 23, before second-half goals from the impressive Udanta Singh and Lenny
Rodrigues in a rain-soaked match ensured ‘The Blues’ travelled to Pyongyang with a healthy lead.
Albert Roca’s side have lost their last two AFC Cup games on the road and they will look to avoid conceding early. On the other hand, an early goal in their favour would all but
kill the tie.
Chhetri will once again be the man Bengaluru would look to for inspiration, but the emergence of 21-year-old Udanta has added sharpness in the upfront while Spaniard Dimas
Delgado, who boasts AFC Champions League experience, has the knowhow to help the Indian side through a potentially tricky encounter.
Bengaluru, however, will go into tomorrow’s match with little practice as they landed Pyongyang late on Monday only.
The team’s initial plan was to travel to Pyongyang on September 8, but North Korea’s Foundation Day Celebrations next day meant the Blues had to postpone their departure to
September 10 night and they landed in Pyongyang late on Monday after transiting through China.
Speaking on the eve of the crucial game, Roca adopted a cautious approach. The Spaniard said he expects his team to stay focused and avoid any slip ups.
“It’s going to be a tough match for us, given the conditions. Even though we have a three-goal advantage, we can’t be complacent. We have to stay focused on our game plan and get the job done tomorrow,” he said.
Regarding the lack of time to acclimatise to the conditions, Roca said, “It would have been ideal to arrive a little earlier which would have given our boys enough time to get used to the conditions. But it is what it is. We want to hit the ground running and I hope it turns out to be a good experience.”
Roca has almost an entire squad to choose from with no suspensions or injuries to worry about. However, Dimas Delgado, Lenny Rodrigues and Harmanjot Khabra, who all picked up bookings during the first leg, will have to be careful as another booking will find them suspended from the Inter-zonal Finals should the Blues make it through.
Tournament debutants 4.25 SC were at least the equal of their opponents in the first leg until Chhetri’s penalty just after the half hour gave Bengaluru the lead.
The East Asia Zonal champions then struggled to deal with the conditions as torrential rain appeared to play in favour of the Indian side last month. But the Pyongyang-based team
have goals within them and the game in Bengaluru was the first time they have failed to score in the competition.
Much will rest on the shoulders of the tournament’s nine-goal top scorer Kim Yu-song, while captain An Il-bom is the driving force behind the team.