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  AFC Cup Final: Day of reckoning for Blues

AFC Cup Final: Day of reckoning for Blues

Published : Nov 5, 2016, 2:41 am IST
Updated : Nov 5, 2016, 2:41 am IST

Bengaluru FC will look to add the brightest feather so far to their already vibrant cap when they take on Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force Club), in the AFC Cup final at the Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium here

Bengaluru FC will look to add the brightest feather so far to their already vibrant cap when they take on Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force Club), in the AFC Cup final at the Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium here on Saturday.

Having already created history by becoming the first Indian club to reach the final of Asia’s second biggest continental competition, the promised land beckons the JSW side at the other end of the final whistle.

Moving past one threshold in the semis, BFC’s underdog status going into the title tilt could just give them the freedom to express themselves and turn the tables.

The fact that they have reached this stage in only their third year of existence and their second time of asking in this competition, embellishes their achievement. And a step further would be a big one for the club, and to borrow Neil Armstrong’s phrase, a giant leap for Indian football.

Interestingly, Air Force Club also have a lot riding on the match as they chase the target of becoming the first Iraqi team to win the AFC Cup after Arbil twice failed at the final hurdle in 2012 and 2014. With a record of eight wins, two draws and one loss, the Baghdad side have a better record than BFC, which has six wins, two draws and three losses, coming into the final.

More steel in the Blues But the change in manager, Albert Roca replacing Ashley Westwood, has seen the I-League champs adopt a new system and add more steel to their performance. An unbeaten record in the last four game for a 4-2 aggregate win over defending champions and hitherto unbeaten Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semifinals tells the tale.

Woven around the central core of John Johnson and Juan Gonzalez in defence and Cameron Watson and Alvaro Rubio in midfield, the Garden City club will bank on the foursome to deliver when it matters most. While the central defensive pair looks balanced, the ability of Watson to work his way out of trouble and Rubio’s silky skills and eye for a pass in the final third will be key for BFC.

Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Alwyn George, who made it to Doha only on the eve of the match after a minor visa trouble, will be expected to add to the creative hub to feed the club’s top scorer and talisman Sunil Chhetri and CK Vineeth up front. Lyngdoh’s set-piece delivery will also be in the forefront of the club’s plans.

Unused Ralte’s big moment The major change for the Men in Blue will be at the goal, where Lalthuammawia Ralte, who hasn’t played in the competition since March, will step in for the suspended Amrinder Singh. While undoubtedly a forced change, Ralte’s ability and comfort to pass the ball from the back might just help the Indian club who have taken to dominating possession with aplomb under their new Spanish manager.

Control the ball, control the game is the Spanish coaching philosophy.

Meanwhile, for the Iraq club, the final will be a home away from home as they host matches in Doha due to the volatile situation in their country. But given the stellar numbers of Indians in Qatar’s capital, it may very well be big boost for the Bengaluru club. While strong physicality and hard running makes up their repertoire, the suspension to chief creator Bashar Resan and second striker Samal Saeed will hamstring the smooth running of the team, adding more onus on the tournament’s top scorer, Hammadi Ahmed to get the goals.

With goals in each of his last 10 appearances for the club in the AFC Cup, for a total haul of 15, few would bet against the striker.

It is Ahmed, along with ever-present defender Sameh Saeed and goalkeeper Fahad Talib, who will shape the fortunes of the Air Force Club.

Make no grains about it, history will be written on Saturday. The team which embraces the pressure will be the last one standing.

Location: Qatar, Doha