Bengaluru FC will play the most-important match of their brief history on Wednesday, but no one will be allowed inside the stadium. The violence owing to the Cauvery water dispute, which has virtually brought the city to a standstill, has forced the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to conduct the AFC Cup quarterfinal between Bengaluru and Singapore’s Tampine Rovers behind closed doors.
“The match will be played behind closed doors at the request of the local authority following unrelated incidents in the city in the last few days,” the AFC said in a statement. The continental governing body added they were forced to bring forward the kick-off time of the match due to security concerns. The tie, which was initially scheduled to be held late evening, will now be played at 4pm.
Rovers, who boast of former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Penant in their ranks, arrived in Bengaluru on Monday. They were scheduled to practice at Bangalore District Football Association (BDFA) stadium but the vandalism on streets forced them to train at their hotel’s car parking instead.
The club, on its website and official Twitter feed, said they had to ‘improvise’ after their practice session had to be abandoned due to ‘Bollywood-tinged drama on Bengaluru streets’. “Bengaluru club officials advised against holding the training at their astro-turf stadium, even as the team bus was pulling into the stadium. Instead, the squad returned to their hotel and coach Akbar (Nawas) held an improvised session in the hotel carpark, to the delight of hotel staff,” the club said on its website.
While Bengaluru players managed to train at the same venue, they had to do so by travelling to the stadium on motorbikes as four-wheelers were easy targets on the streets. There was uncertainty over the tie, with the AFC even mulling the possibility of postponing it.
However, Bengaluru FC said the decision to hold the tie behind closed doors was taken after a ‘lengthy’ consultation between Bengaluru police, the AFC, All India Football Federation as well as officials from both clubs.
Boasting of a vast fan-base, Bengaluru FC’s CEO Mustafa Ghouse said they were expecting around 7,000 fans to turn up for the match.
“It’s very disappointing to play such a huge match in front of empty stands. Home advantage really counts in these kind of matches. But the situation here in delicate and we had to take this decision,” Ghouse said, adding that both teams had a training session at the Kanteerva Stadium on Tuesday.
The AFC Cup is among the most prestigious continental football competitions. I-League champions Bengaluru, coached by Albert Roca — who was an assistant to Frank Rjikaard at Barcelona between 2003 to 2008 — can become only the third Indian club after Goan side Dempo and Kolkata giants East Bengal to reach the semifinals of the competition if they win this tie. “It’s a real shame (to play behind closed doors) but we need to accept it and put on a good performance. I have spoken to the players, and it won’t be an excuse,” Roca said.