AFC Cup: Chhetri warns teammates not to lower guard

Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri has called on his teammates not to be complacent ahead of the second leg of the AFC Cup semifinals against defending champion Johor Darul Ta’zim.

Sunil Chhetri..."[Johor Darul Ta’zim] is a very strong side, but I am really positive. We fancy ourselves here."   -  PTI

Bengaluru FC will have a slight edge over Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) when it plays the second leg of the AFC Cup semifinals as a couple of opposition players will be absent and as it has an away goal in hand. But captain Sunil Chhetri has warned that his side can lower its guard only at its peril.

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

Bengaluru had earned a crucial away goal as it drew 1-1 against defending champion JDT in Malaysia on September 28 in the first leg. Johor will be without key strikers Juan Martin Lucero and Pereyra Diaz on Wednesday as they were suspended for the second leg.

But, Chhetri said JDT was a such a side that it had beaten BFC 2-1 once by fielding local players. “The last time we played against them they beat us 2-1 by fielding local players. So, that is the potential and caliber of JDT players,” Chhetri told PTI.

“They are very strong side, but I am really positive. We fancy ourselves here. That’s the kind of vibe this ground gives me. Even the game we played against Iran and Oman - both international matches - I felt we could win,” said Chhetri, who is also India captain.

Asked about the absence of two rival strikers on Wednesday, Chhetri said their absence would not matter much as JDT, the defending champion, had enough bench strength. “The absence of some of their key players due to injuries do not matter much. JDT is very good team. They have 50 good players to replace,” he said.

Chhetri said the focus in the second leg would be to score a goal and not to concede one. “The away goal helps but we are not trying to put this in our brains too much. Sometime it can give a different message,” he said. “Coach Albert Roca has told us to win the game, but don’t have to rush. Score a goal in alloted 90 minutes and do not concede. You are then sorted. That’s the whole thing,” he added.

Chhetri showered praise on C. K. Vineeth who he described as a 'live wire' on the pitch. “He (Vineeth) is live wire of our team. He is a guy who will keep working like a horse. He runs fast and has stamina. He is also hard working, and to top it all, scoring goals. He is so vital for us, man. As far as commitment is concerned there is no one better than Vineeth,” he said.

Chhetri also had a word of praise for foreign players, saying that the team has not had any ‘rotten apple’ in all these years. In the last encounter alone, the host had only 10 shots at the net compared to JDT’s 24.

“It is not that the players are not capable of scoring goals. We have just played three games and it will be unfair to say we have not been able to score goals due to change in the style of football. Our players did score in the past and can do it [on Wednesday],” he said.

Johor has been left short of options with the absence of its three key players but former Malaysian international Safee Sali comes in as the substitute striker. Although the game would not be easy for Safee because he will be making a comeback after warming the bench for some time, his presence will be a key as the visitor does not have a genuine striker.

Amirul Hadi Zainal could be blooded into the squad and partner Hariss Harun in central midfield, pushing Safiq higher up to play behind Safee. Left winger Azinee Taib is another option to play with Safee up front. S Kunanlan, who got injured in the first leg, is also back in training and could start on Wednesday.

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