A second consecutive AFC Cup final appearance beckons for Bengaluru FC (BFC) as it takes on 2015 finalist FC Istiklol in the first leg of the inter-zonal final at the Hisor Central Stadium, in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, on Wednesday.
“We know how close we are to a shot at the final but we’ve kept that out of our thoughts for the moment,” insisted coach Albert Roca on the eve of the match. “Over the next two games, it’s only Istiklol that we are concerned about.”
The task at hand remains formidable. This will only be the new-look BFC squad’s third competitive appearance after the Indian Super League draft held more than two months ago. But its opponent is coming off a 5-0 win in the 16th and final league match of the season over the weekend as it ended the domestic campaign as champion. It has remained unbeaten with 13 wins and three draws and has also scored a whopping 50 goals and conceded just seven.
But the fact that Istiklol will have three of its regular starters suspended will certainly help BFC. Ghanaian midfielder David Mawutor, Ukranian defender Artem Baranovskyi and attacking midfielder Amirbek Juraboev are all out. On its part, BFC’s new squad has gelled well together and has no injured or suspended players to contend with.
Roca though said that there was no room for complacency.
“They have players who can change the direction of a game in minutes and the key for us would be stay focused through the 90 minutes without taking the tie for granted,” he said.
It remains to be seen if the Spaniard will roll out an unchanged eleven for the third match in a row after having done so over two legs against 4.25 SC in the previous round.
Last year, to qualify for the final, BFC secured a 1-1 draw away to Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta'zim before beating the 2015 champion 3-1 at home. This time around, with the return leg to be played in Bengaluru on October 18, it will hope for nothing short of a redux.
The game kicks off at 7.30 p.m. (IST) and will be streamed live on AFC’s Media Channels (Facebook and YouTube).
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