AFC Cup: Bengaluru calmly braces up to create history

History beckons Bengaluru FC as it could be the first Indian club ever to reach the AFC Cup final if it gets the desired result in the second leg of the semifinal against Johor Darul Ta’zim on Wednesday. It will probably be the I-League champion's toughest examination till date.

In the four times the teams have met, Bengaluru FC has been thoroughly outplayed only once.   -  K. Murali Kumar

On paper, it seems rather simple for Bengaluru FC (BFC). After having secured a crucial away goal in the 1-1 draw at Johor Darul Ta’zim in the first leg of the AFC Cup semifinal, it’s only one clean sheet away from going through to the final.

But the strength of its opponents and the weight of history have ensured that it’s probably the reigning I-League champion’s toughest examination till date. Johor is the defending champion, and if BFC gets through it will be the first Indian club ever to reach the final.

> Read: 'Not just Bengaluru, this match is about India'

However, it’s a task BFC would like to believe is not beyond it when it meets Johor in the second leg at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Wednesday. In the four times the clubs have met, BFC has been thoroughly outplayed only once – a 3-0 reverse away in the group stages in May.

Even as Sunil Chhetri said that the away goal wouldn’t change his team’s approach, he did agree that it took away some pressure.

“Imagine, if it was 1-0 to them, then we would be running behind that equaliser from the start,” he said. “But the instructions are very clear – not to think about the away goal. It starts at 0-0 and we need to win it in 90 minutes.”

BFC will be without the services of the injured striker Udanta Singh. The centre-back John Johnson is carrying a niggle but is expected to be fit. Johor will also be missing two of its first-choice strikers in the Argentines Juan Martin Lucero and Jorge Diaz. But Roca warned that it would be a grave mistake to think that Johor will be diminished.

“The substitutes they have play in the Malaysian national team,” said the Spaniard. “They have experience. If we think that it will be easier, even five percent easier, we will be committing an error. The players know that it will be tough; perhaps even more than with the Argentine guys around.”

'We need to be patient'

Johor in fact has everything to play for. Thus far in the season, it has already picked up the Malaysian League, FA Cup and Shield titles. For such an all-conquering side, to not defend the AFC Cup crown would indeed be a blow. For that, its Argentine coach Mario Gomez preached patience. “I know it’s a difficult game,” he said. “Bengaluru is very strong in defence. But we have 90 minutes to score that one goal. We need to be patient and stick to our plan.”

Right through the media briefing on Tuesday, Roca, perhaps sensing how a game of such magnitude can unnerve the best of players, sought to play the hype down and instead look at the larger picture.

“Johor is the favourite for me,” he said. “For India, its one of the most important games in history. I am aware of it. But I try to be calm and speak to the players in the same way. They should not be overly stimulated. We will try and go to the final. But to be competitive and work hard are the most important things to achieve. Not only for tomorrow or the final but beyond for Indian football to grow.”

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