BFC gears up for tough AFC Cup outing against 4.25 SC

After finishing as runner-up last time around, BFC bears the nations hopes as it takes on Korea's 4.25 SC in the first leg of the inter-zonal play-off semifinal on Wednesday.

The Bengaluru FC team trains ahead of its AFC Cup match, while coach Albert Roca faces the additional challenge of having to integrate more than a dozen new players into his squad following the Indian Super League player draft.   -  K. Murali Kumar

For the second year running, Bengaluru FC finds itself in the business end of the AFC Cup. In 2016, it nearly went all the way, falling only in the final and with it, it captured the imagination of an entire nation.

As it takes on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's 4.25 SC in the first leg of the inter-zonal play-off semifinal at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday, it will be an exercise in managing the burden of those expectations.

But the path hasn't got any easier. True, it has fewer hurdles – the new Cup format requires BFC to beat only two sides over two legs each to get to the final as against three sides in 2016 – but the level of difficulty remains undiminished.

Like last time, it does not help that BFC's continental campaign has been split over two domestic seasons. The last competitive game it played was an AFC Cup group stage encounter in late May, just after the Federation Cup ended.  As BFC lost in the final in Doha last year, this dearth of playing time was one of the important reasons cited.

Albert Roca faces the additional challenge of having to integrate more than a dozen new players into his squad following the Indian Super League player draft. Last year he had the task of drilling his methods into the minds of a largely inherited group.

This time around, though he has had the chance to pick a squad to suit his style, cohesion and rhythm take time and hence his position is no less unenviable.

“It's a very important game, but you cannot do much,” he admitted. “We have not even had a month with the squad. But if we have to play the way we did at the end of last season, it needs time. The attitude of the players is now most important and they are hungry.”

From the little that's known, BFC's opponent may not be beset with such problems. Backed by the Korean People's Army, discipline and togetherness may come naturally. But in forward Kim Yu-Song, it has someone who has thus far shown a rather exuberant streak.

With nine goals in just four games, he is the tournament's top-scorer. In fact eight of those came in two fixtures against Mongolia’s Erchim FC. The ninth, perhaps the most crucial, was the goal that clinched a late 2-2 draw against fellow Pyongyang side Kigwancha SC. This ultimately ensured the side's passage owing to better head-to-head record against its compatriots.

BFC can surely plan and offer greater resistance to Kim. It's the rest of the team which Roca's men are in the dark about.

  Dugout videos