Bengaluru FC will be up against reigning champions Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia when AFC Cup action returns to the Kanteerava Stadium here tomorrow.
The two sides met in the AFC Champions League qualifier last season at the Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium - a dramatic game that Eugeneson Lyngdoh took to extra-time swinging home directly from a corner in the 90th minute before Chanturu Suppiah’s winner in the 98th minute quelled what was more than a valiant show on Bengaluru’s Asian debut.
Bengaluru coach Ashley Westwood said his side will play without the burden of pressure and look to give a good account of themselves.
“It’s going to be a good game. They are a good team and are champions of the AFC Cup with right reason. We’ve played them last season and know what to expect from them. They have made a couple of changes from last year and I believe they are stronger,” said Westwood of the opposition that is coached by Argentine Mario Gomez.
Injuries have hampered Bengaluru’s season and with the Blues set to play their fifth game in 14 days, a packed schedule hasn’t helped either.
“We’ve traveled away to Laos, played at home before traveling to Shillong and then Goa with most of these trips being 3 am starts. There is fatigue from all the travel but we’ll see who looks fresh at training and pick a team that will give us the best chance to qualify out of the group,” said Westwood.
Striker CK Vineeth and central defender Curtis Osano, both recovering from groin strains, are doubtful starters while Lyngdoh is yet to completely recover from a fracture. Midfielder Shankar Sampingiraj, meanwhile, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a ruptured cruciate.
JDT began their title defence in emphatic fashion, beating Myanmar club Ayeyawady United 8-1 with their Argentine striking pair of Pereyra Diaz and Juan Lucero among the goals while skipper Mohd. Safiq bagged a hat-trick.
“They (JDT) are a very good side technically. They play with a lot of quick touches and have good players. They have a good set of strikers, a good defence and good foreigners,” said Westwood.
“They are a good side but not unbeatable. We aren’t going into this game to make up the numbers but to give a good account of ourselves. We are playing a decent Asian side and we believe we are one as well,” he added.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri said the team was motivated to do well. “We backed ourselves there and did well and when we play at home, we back ourselves even more. As players we are going to look the other way in terms of fatigue and hectic travel and go out there and give nothing less than 100%.”