Bengaluru FC to face North Korea’s April 25 in inter-zonal AFC Cup semis
Bengaluru FC’s AFC Cup semifinal against April 25 SC will mark their third successive AFC Cup knock-out round appearance at ‘fortress’ Kanteerava Stadium, where they have not lost their last seven matches.football Updated: Aug 23, 2017 10:03 IST
Aiming to go one better than their final appearance in the last edition, Bengaluru FC will lock horns against a lesser known North Korean side April 25 in the first of the two-legged AFC Cup inter-zone semi-final in Bengaluru.
Bengaluru will also mark their third successive AFC Cup knock-out round appearance at ‘fortress’ Kanteerava Stadium where they have not lost their last seven matches.
Albert Rocca’s side have not lost a home game in the AFC Cup since a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim in March 2016.
South Asian Zone winners BFC have scored seven goals and conceded six in six matches while topping Group E.
April 25, on the other hand, have netted 14 goals and conceded three goals in their four group stage matches.
The new-look BFC, who have joined the Indian Premier League bandwagon, will have their task cut out to beat the North Korean side, as a few key players from their last year’s campaign have left the team.
Head coach Rocca will have to rebuild the team around senior players like Sunil Chettri and Spanish defender Juanan Gonzalez, who have been their heroes in last year’s campaign.
Rocca had focused on fortifying their defence, which was evident during the ISL auction, when the team management picking fullbacks Subhasish Bose, Rahul Bheke and I-League winner Zohmingliana ‘Zotea’ Ralte.
Rocca has also brought Spaniards Dimas Delgado and Toni Dovale to strengthen the midfield. He also brought back Alwyn George and Lenny Rodrigues.
Rocca plugged the only weak link in the team by signing India’s international goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu after Amrinder Singh was drafted by ISL’s Mumbai City FC.
After plying trade at Norwegian top division side FC Stabaek for the last three seasons, Sandhu has been roped in by Bengaluru a few days back and he is expected to play a crucial role in his first club match on Indian soil since 2013.
April 25 have brought a young side, with an average age of less than 23. Their star performer has been 22-year-old striker Kim Yu-Song, who has so far netted nine goals from four matches and he is the player to watch out for.
The return leg of this inter-zonal semifinals will be played at Pyongyang on September 13.
If BFC win the tie, they will take on the winner of the other inter-zone semifinals play-off between FC Istiklol of Tajikistan and ASEAN Zonal champion in the inter-zone final.
The winner of the inter-zone final will, in the grand finale, take on the winner of the west Asian zone final between reigning champions Air Force Club of Iraq and Al Wahda of Syria.
The AFC has completely changed the tournament rules regarding group and knockout stages this season.
If Bengaluru can go all the way to the title round, the Karnataka capital will be the venue for the summit clash as the 2017 AFC Cup final will be hosted by the winner of the inter-zone play-off on November 4.
First Published: Aug 22, 2017 21:23 IST