AFC Cup semifinal: Johor Darul Ta'zim v Bengaluru FC

Bengaluru FC is aiming to become to first Indian club to enter the final of a continental competition having emulated Dempo and East Bengal by making it to the last four of the AFC Cup.

Bengaluru FC players in training at the Larkin Stadium in Johor Bahru on the eve of the first leg of the AFC Cup semifinal against Johor Darul Ta'zim.   -  Special Arrangement

Bengaluru FC travels to the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru to take on defending champion Johor Darul Ta'zim in the first leg of the AFC Cup semifinals.

The I-League champion is aiming to become to first Indian club to enter the final of a continental competition having emulated Dempo and East Bengal by making it to the last four.

Bengaluru and Johor Darul have already played each other in the group stage of the AFC Cup with the Malaysian side coming out on top in both the fixtures. The Indian club has its work cut out as Johor Darul is unbeaten in its last 23 home games.

"We know everything about the opponent. They deserve to be here and are a very strong rival. We are not scared about that. For us, it's a nice challenge and the aim is to put on a performance," said coach Albert Roca. "We do have a few injuries and unfortunately, those players cannot participate. But that is not an excuse as we have a good squad and we have to prove it tomorrow."

Skipper Sunil Chhetri spoke to Sportstar about how the mood in the Bengaluru FC camp was before the biggest game in the club's short history and he sounded quite confident.

"You’d expect it to be tense but strangely, it’s relaxed. We all know the magnitude of this game and somewhere deep inside there is a tiny sense of anxiety. But pressure? No. We are playing a new system under a new coach and our first competitive game was the first leg of the quarterfinal against Tampines Rovers at home. We then played them away and now we’re here. The team is still a work in progress but we have no choice but to raise our game if we want to create history."

Asked whether it was payback time having already lost to Johor Darul in the group stages, the dimunitive forward replied, "The circumstances are a lot different now. There is so much more at stake. But I wouldn’t really call it a shot at revenge. They are a good team and are champions for a reason. While we respect that it won’t come in our way of going all out to take an advantage back home. Again, much has changed since we last played them and it’s down to hard we work for those 90 minutes."

The Indian Super League kicks off in a few days' time and quite a few players from the Bengaluru FC squad will join their respective teams shortly. When asked if that could be a distraction, Chhetri maintained that the upcoming semifinal ties were the only thing on the team's mind right now.

"I don’t see why it (ISL) should be a distraction. This is the semifinal of the AFC Cup we are talking about. Bengaluru FC is only the third team in Indian football history to make it this far and that is saying all you need to know about the magnitude of the occasion."

The first leg will be played on September 28 with the return leg at the Kanteerava stadium in Bengaluru on October 19.

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