Bengaluru, March 13: Bengaluru FC are expected to field a second-string side when they open their AFC Cup group stage campaign against Abahani Dhaka of Bangladesh at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday (March 14). Coach Albert Roca will rest his main squad members for the continental competition as they have to play the final of the Indian Super League this Saturday (March 17) at the Kanteerava. The second-string BFC side has done well so far to breeze past Transport United of Bhutan and TC Sports Club of Maldives in the play-offs and reach the group stage.
Placed in Group E alongside Abahani Dhaka, 2017 I-League champions Aizawl FC and New Radiant Sports Club of Maldives, progress for Bengaluru FC into the knockouts appears smooth. They were to initially open their campaign against Aizawl FC last week (March 8), but the tie was rescheduled to April 5 as BFC had to play the ISL semi-final first leg against FC Pune City on March 7.
"As you know, the ISL final on Saturday is an important match for the club," Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca told reporters on Tuesday (March 13). "I will rest some of those players who have to play the final. As a coach, I know I have to pay attention to all competitions. AFC Cup is an important competition for sure. But it is only one game that I will not play them. We can bring them in later to get us more points in the group stages. Tomorrow, even if you are not playing with the first XI team, I know we have enough strength to get points. Let's see if we're able to do that."
The focus will be on reserve striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia, midfielder Malsawnzuala, Leon Augustine and defender Subhasish Bose to come good against Abahani Dhaka. Bose, who has received four yellow cards in the ISL, will unfortunately miss the final this Saturday. "Despite me being out of the ISL final, every match is important for me," Bose said. "I will give my all against Abahani Dhaka."
AR: @CarlesCuadrat is back and he's here to help. He helps me with decisions for set-pieces, with selection of players. I have confidence with him and Marc and the rest of the staff and now is the time to help us and push us in the right direction. #BENvALD— Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) March 13, 2018
Augustine will also feature in the I-League second division as well as the Santosh Trophy final round for Karnataka next week. Regulars Miku and John Johnson do not feature in the 30-man squad for the AFC Cup currently. Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Erik Paartalu, mainstays for the ISL final, may be rested.
BFC meanwhile made a few changes to the 30-man squad for the group stages. Dimas Delgado and Toni Dovale were not retained. Daniel Segovia has been brought in as well as BFC 'B' player Ragav Gupta.
Abahani Dhaka opened their campaign against New Radiant, losing 0-1 at the Bangabandhu National Stadium after conceding in the 58th minute through Ali Fasir. Sunday Chizoba, who was sent off in that match, will miss this game. In Sunday's absence, Dhaka will depend on fellow Nigerian Emeka Onuoha along with Japanese midfielder Seija Kojima.
The visitors have played only three matches since the beginning of 2018 and only one match - the one against New Radiant - in March. Lack of match practice will sure be a big problem for visiting coach Saiful Bari Titu.
"It's not about match practice, it's about having a pre-season," Saiful said. "We didn't have one. We started in January last season with the AFC Cup and the season in Bangladesh is so long that it was completed only this January. It's the problem with our schedule in our local calendar. Playing matches gives you ideas about the opposition club and your strengths. I had only three weeks before the AFC Cup began. Moreover, I didn't get the foreign players in time because of visa players. It's always difficult to analyse your team and think of the most important players to field in such a situation."
Where to watch:
Bengaluru FC vs Abahani Dhaka
Live from Sree Kanteerava Stadium
At 8 pm (March 14, Wednesday)
On AFC Cup's Facebook page
Squad for AFC Cup:
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Abhra Mondal, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Calvin Abhishek
Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Collin Abranches, Zohmingliana Ralte, Juanan Gonzalez, Subhasish Bose, Nishu Kumar, Joyner Lourenco, Asheer Akhtar.
Midfielders: Lenny Rodrigues, Harmanjot Khabra, Erik Paartalu, Alwyn George, Myron Mendes, Malsawmzuala, Ragav Gupta.
Strikers: Sunil Chhetri, Daniel Segovia, Boithang Haokip, Thongkhosiem Haokip, Udanta Singh, Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Leon Augustine.