Eyeing a group stage berth, coach Albert Roca said he expects nothing short of a stern test when Bengaluru FC take on Maldivian side TC Sports Club in the first leg of the AFC Cup Preliminary Stage game in Male on Tuesday.
The Blues arrived in the capital after becoming the first side to secure a play-off berth in the Indian Super League but the Spanish manager said it would count for nothing when they attempt to take an important step to make it to the group stages of a competition Bengaluru have enjoyed relative success in.
“The game against TC Sports Club is going to be a tougher challenge than the one we faced in Bhutan. They have made it to this stage on the back of two good games against the team from Bangladesh. Their confidence along with being comfortable with the humid weather that we aren’t used to, makes the challenge bigger,” Roca said.
The side from Maldives rode on an Anatoliy Vlasichev hat-trick at home to get past Bangladeshi side Saif 4-1 on aggregate and book a date with Bengaluru. They will however be without first-choice goalkeeper Dmitry Asnin who, with an injured hand, is expected to be out for long.
Staying consistent with his policy of rotating the squad and handing players rest, Roca has made the trip without names like Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Juanan Gonzalez and Dimas Delgado among others.
“It’s something (rotating) we’ve been doing often and it works for us more often than not because we have a hungry squad that is willing to grab the chances it gets.
“Yes, we have qualified for the play-off stages in the ISL but it’s important to keep our winning momentum going and we play a tough side in FC Pune City on the 16th of this month.”
The list of players includes Cletus Paul and Leon Augustine who are part of the Bengaluru FC squad.
The Blues have a 100 percent win record away and at home against Maldivian clubs, having got the better of Maziya S&RC twice in previous editions of the AFC Cup, but Roca doesn’t make much of the statistic.
“It needed a goal in the 90th minute to beat Maziya the last time we played here. Also, things are different this time. TC Sports Club are a new side for us, one with young players and an experienced foreign player who is doing well for them.
“Tuesday will be a fresh chapter and the squad will treat it exactly like that,” said Roca.