KINGFISHER EAST BENGAL (INDIA)
AL ITTIHAD (SYRIA)
Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
10th March, 2010 – 3:00 PM IST
Federation Cup champions Kingfisher East Bengal hosts Syrian Premier League 2009 Runners up Al Ittihad at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday in an AFC Cup Group D encounter. This is the first group league match for both the teams in Group-D, a group which also features Lebanese Premier League champions Al-Nejmeh and Kuwaiti National League champions Al-Qadsia.
The opening fixture in Group-D between Al-Nejmeh and Al-Qadsia ended in a goalless draw. Therefore both East Bengal and Al-Ittihad would look to get a morale boosting result in their favor to go top of the table, at least for the time being.
KINGFISHER EAST BENGAL:
Form Guide: LLWWWW
The Kolkata giant has been thoroughly unpredictable in this season. While they suffered a humiliating 5-3 derby defeat against arch-rivals Mohun Bagan and lost quite a few matches against lowly opponents, they also have produced some brilliant attacking football against some top clubs and also clinched the Federation Cup trophy remaining unbeaten all the way through.
Even though they went down against Lajong FC in their most recent I-League encounter, there is no guarantee that the same team will not come out all guns blazing against Al-Ittihad in this crucial tie, where the pride of the nation is also at-stake. The return of the deadly striking combo, Baichung-Yakubu, will enhance the confidence of Red & Gold brigade, who were in serious injury crisis over the last couple of weeks. Coach Philippe de Ridder would also be relying heavily on playmaker Mehtab Hussain and Alvito D’Cunha for keeping the supply line active for the high profile strikers. Ghanaian Abel Hammond and Sanju Pradhan are also match-fit and expected to get a start at the wings. Back four will remain unchanged with Nirmal and Nabi at the wing back and Okpara-Mehraj duo at the center of the defense. In all probability, Abhra Mondal will get the nod to guard the custody for East Bengal.
Form Guide: DLLLWD
For the six times winners of the Syrian League — Al-Ittihad — the season 2009-10 has been a rather dismal one so far. After the sixteenth round, they are languishing at the tenth position in their national league standings. But they are determined to make a mark in the AFC Cup in their debut appearance. To give themselves a fair time to acclimatize with the weather and the artificial turf of Salt Lake ground, Al-Ittihad landed at Kolkata on 6th March, four days ahead of kick-off.
As far as the star attraction goes, they have got as many as six players from the Syrian national team and Otobong Ene Edet, the Cameroon playmaker, is their lone foreigner. Striker Abdul Fattah Al Agha, who featured in the recent Nehru Cup and scored the winning goal against India in the group stages, is their prime hope. Second striker Omar Hemidi is in great form off-late and currently is the 3rd top scorer in this year’s Syrian league.
Kingfisher East Bengal 1 – 1 Al-Ittihad
It is unlikely that the game will be an open encounter, as both the teams are completely unknown to each other. The strategy for both the teams would be to go into the match with a strong defensive line-up. They would like to take time to judge the opponent in the first half an hour and then go for attacking. The priority would be not to concede any early goals. Given their current pathetic run in the domestic league, both the coaches will be happy to share a point each from their opening AFC Cup clash.
It also depends a lot on the avatar in which the East Bengal team turns out on match day. They are the most successful Indian team against foreign clubs and on their day, they can tear apart any defense with the quality they possess at their disposal.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Baichung Bhutia, Yusif Yakubu [EAST BENGAL]
Abdul Fattah Al Agha, Otobong [AL-ITTIHAD]