Bengaluru FC will be up against a new-look Maziya S&RC side and humid weather conditions when the sides, stacked together in Group E of the AFC Cup, battle it out at the National Football Stadium in Male on Tuesday.
The venue and opponent aren’t alien to Bengaluru after the two sides were grouped together in 2015 with the Blues winning both legs by a 2-1 margin. It was Sunil Chhetri’s brace in Male that set Bengaluru up for a surge to the Round of 16 in what was the club’s first AFC Cup appearance.
But much has changed for the hosts since then with coach Marjan Sekulovski taking charge of the team in 2017. On the foreign player front, Maziya have signed Kyrgyz goalkeeper Pavel Matiash, defenders Andrei Cordos (Romania) and Milos Kovacevic (Montenegro) and striker Aleksandar Rakic (Serbia).
Like Bengaluru, Maziya too got their 2017 campaign off to a winning start with a 2-0 result away to Abahani in Dhaka and Albert Roca believes the hosts will have a spring in their stride.
“They have made some good signings and are fresh from their win over Abahani. More importantly, they are playing at home which makes them even more dangerous. We are not going to have it easy,” said Roca while addressing the press.
The Spaniard chose to rest skipper Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Lenny Rodrigues while bringing off Udanta Singh in the defeat to Mohun Bagan in the League over the weekend, in a bid to keep them fresh for Tuesday and the trio, in all probability, will be handed starts against the champions of Maldives.
“We had a situation with our fixtures and I took the call to rest Sunil. He’s been playing 90 minutes for us and then the national team and I think he deserved a break to be ready for what will be a very tough game on Tuesday,” he said.
But while Chhetri has been talismanic for the Blues, Roca refused to burden his skipper with any extra pressure.
“There is a portion of pressure that we expect Sunil to take but not all of it. It’s going to take everyone playing their part if we are to succeed. We showed how far we can go in Asia, last year. And it’s going to take an exceptional level of consistency if we are to repeat the feat,” he said.
The Indian champions put aside an indifferent run of form in the I-League to beat fellow Indian club Mohun Bagan 2-1 in their AFC Cup opener after an inspired second-half performance that saw them claw back into the game from a goal down.
And it will take more such performances if Roca’s side are to fight their way out of the group stages for a third successive season.