Playing holders and two-time AFC Cup winners Kuwait SC at home in the first-leg semi-final here on Tuesday would have been an uphill task for East Bengal at best of times.
Adding to the difficulty quotient is travel fatigue for a team that has spent a lot of time on flights over the past week. What was worse was that three key players — midfielder Mehtab Hossain, and defenders Arnab Mondal and Gurwinder Singh — reached here only on Monday morning. And with the domestic season having just kicked-off, East Bengal look far from settled under new coach Marcos Falopa. East Bengal wrote to AFC and even got the Indian federation to back their appeal to defer this match by a day but it hasn’t worked.
This is the first team from west Asia East Bengal are playing in the current edition and a lot would hinge on the ability to defend well. In Issam Jemma, Kuwait SC have Tunisia’s all-time highest goalscorer. Jemma has also played for Auxerre and Lens in France.
East Bengal are the only team in the penultimate round who are unbeaten so far in the 2013 AFC Cup. They will need to punch above their weight to keep it that way.