Bengaluru, sans Chhetri, begins AFC Cup campaign

With captain and star striker Sunil Chhetri left out due to a groin injury, Bengaluru FC begins its campaign in the AFC Cup football against Lao Toyota FC here on Wednesday.

Despite the absence of the likes of Chhetri and Lyngdoh, head coach Ashley Westwood said his team’s tryst with continental football last season could hold them in good stead in the Group H opener.

With captain and star striker Sunil Chhetri left out due to an injury, Bengaluru FC begins its campaign in the AFC Cup football against Lao Toyota FC here on Wednesday.

Chhetri, the national team captain, has not made the trip owing to a strained groin while livewire midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh will also be missed as he continues his recuperation from a fracture.

However, young striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia will be in the reckoning after recovering from a knee injury that had kept him on the sidelines for over a month.

Upbeat

Despite the absence of the likes of Chhetri and Lyngdoh, head coach Ashley Westwood said his team’s tryst with continental football last season could hold them in good stead in the Group H opener.

The Blues arrived here on Sunday before putting in two training sessions, on Monday and Tuesday, and the gaffer said preparations for the game were on track.

“We’ve been here two days which was good because the players have had time to acclimatise. We’ve had a look at the pitch, we’ve had a little football and the lads are keen to get going,” said Westwood at the pre-match press conference.

Debut encounter

Lao Toyota, like Bengaluru, was established in 2013 and made the AFC Cup group stages by virtue of being the Lao Premier League champions last season. Their previous and only AFC Cup journey ended with an exit in the group stages last season after three draws and three defeats.

While Bengaluru has never faced Lao Toyota, Westwood said that his team had been studying some footage of their opponents.

“We’ve watched a few videos from last season given that the League here has not begun as yet, and we are well aware of what we are up against. The Lao players are technically and physically good, and will prove tough opposition. We’ve played in Malaysia, Maldives, Singapore and Hong Kong and we know the standard Asia demands. Hopefully, we will give a good account of ourselves,” said Westwood.

Bengaluru put up a good show in the competition last season, coming out of group stages behind Indonesian side Persipura Jayapura before going down 2-0 to South China in the Round of 16.

Malaysian team and current AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta’zim FC and Ayeyawady United FC of Myanmar complete Group H.

Westwood tipped Johor to be the favourites in the group.

“If you see where they are and what they’ve done, I think Johor are the favourites. They’ve also had a huge injection of money where they have signed some players. After that, it’s between us, Lao Toyota and Ayeyawady,” said Westwood.

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