Yuvabharati Krirangan, Kolkata
2nd March, 2011 – 5:00 PM IST
The country’s most successful club in international arena, Kingfisher East Bengal FC, is all set to make another dash at the Asian level as the Red-&-Golds host Thailand FA Cup winners Chonburi FC at the colossal Yuvabharati Krirangan, Kolkata on the 2nd March, 2011 to start off their campaign in the 2011 AFC Cup. This is the 8th edition of the tournament and East Bengal is participating in this tournament for the record 5th time. In fact no other club team in Asia, except Jordan’s Al-Wehdat – who are participating in their 6th AFC Cup campaign, can boost of such an exemplary record in this premier continental level competition.
Group H at a Glance
East Bengal are clubbed in Group-H along with Chonburi FC of Thailand, South China of Hong Kong and Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia. This group can be termed as a group of death. South China, the reigning Hong Kong First Division League Champions, also holds the record of winning the first division league on a whopping 40 occasions; the team has a proven record in the AFC Cup. They were the Champions in the year 1993-94, when the tournament was known as Asian Cup Winners Cup. The semi finalist of 2009 season, they topped Group-G last season to qualify for the knock out stage. However, they were pitted against the eventual semi finalists Al-Riffa of Bahrain in the round of 16, and they went down on away goal rule even after winning the home leg 2-0. They are expected to be the table toppers from Group-H this time around.
Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia are another strong contender. Although this will be their debut venture in AFC Cup, they are a strong force in the domestic set up and they qualified for this competition by virtue of being the current runner ups in Indonesia Super League. They are expected to pose a stiff challenge for the other three teams in Group-H, especially on their home turf.
The last team of the group is Thailand’s Chonburi FC. They qualified for the AFC Cup after they reigned supreme in Thailand FA Cup last season. They qualified and participated in the top most continental level competition, AFC Champions League, in 2008. Their best performance in Asia is the quarter final appearance in 2009 AFC Cup.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Thai FA Cup Champions are a balanced side having the right mix of experience and youth. Thai international striker Pipob On-Mo is the skipper of the squad which boosts of seven Thailand national team players along with as many as six established foreign players – the most notable of them being Brazilian striker Ney Fabiano, who is a youth product of the famous Brazilian club Sao Paoplo FC. Fabiano also played for the strong Aussie side Melbourne FC and won the coveted A-League Premiership with them in 2008-09. He will be the man to watch out for East Bengal defenders. The team travelled to India with only 4 international players, as one foreigner is out with injuries while the other foreigner had Visa issues. However they look pretty strong with Serbian Darko Rakočević at the back, Kazuto Kushida of Japan shouldering the midfield responsibilities and Cameroonian international Berlin Ndebe-Nlome – who has previous experience of playing in the English Championship with Portsmouth and Crawley Town.
The creative force behind Chonburi FC’s attacking moves will be Thai national team’s play-maker Therdsak Chaiman. Chaiman is a proven dead ball specialist as well and has scored 22 international goals for Thailand in 73 appearances. Goalkeeper Sujin Naknayom, defender Suree Sukha and midfielder Arthit Sunthornpit are the other star attractions for the visiting team. Their experienced coach Witthaya Laohakul usually prefers a 4-4-2 formation and he is hopeful of producing a decent result in this away tie. He is well aware of the opponent team and has done his home work pretty well. When asked about his expectations from this game, this is what he had to say – “East Bengal is a strong team. They have participated in the AFC Cup 5 times and they have an experienced coach having exposure in English and Australian leagues. They also have four foreign players and most importantly the dangerous India international Baichung Bhutia.”
He was a relieved man after knowing that Baichung Bhutia is out injured for the rest of the season; however, he refused to take his Indian opposition lightly and identified Tolgay Ozbey as the main threat. He was also a bit concerned about playing against a large partisan crowd. It is expected to be a near full house at Yuvabharathi tomorrow. “The stadium is expected to be packed and we must stay calm. Our goal is try to avoid defeat.” – Witthaya Laohakul went on to add.
The Red-&-Golds started off the season brightly but they are going through a relatively quite phase in last of couple of I-League matches. Morgan will be worried by the lack of finishing exhibited by his strikers in last few matches. They are creating chances galore with Mehtab Hussain playing the role of a creative midfielder to perfection, but the strikers are competing with one another in wasting simple sitters. Tolgay, Robin and Penn will have to put their scoring boots on if they are to start their Asian campaign with any points.
Uga Okpara will be a crucial player in this game as East Bengal will need his towering presence at the back to counter the attacking threats of tall and strong Brazilian striker Ney Fabiano. The Red-&-Gold supporters will look up to Tolgay Ozbey for giving them an early lead. Penn Orji, who will be given the role of playing as a roaming attacking midfielder, has the potential of forming a lethal partnership with Tolgay upfront. Mehtab Hussain will have to keeps the reigns of the midfield in his own hand to ensure his team of the major chunk of ball possession.
For East Bengal, the formation will be 4-1-2-1-2. Sandip Nandy will wear the big gloves to guard Red-&-Gold goal. Uga Okpara and either Gurwinder Singh or Nirmal Chhetri are expected to marshal the central defence with Naoba Singh and skipper Soumik Dey as the wing backs. Mehtab Hussain, the key player in Morgan’s 4-3-1-2 set-up, is a certainty at his trademark deep-lying playmaker role. Vasum and Sanju will be sharing the responsibility of giving width to East Bengal attack. Tolgay will definitely start for the Red-&-Gold in the strike department, however it remains to be seen whom Morgan prefers to partner the Australian in the attacking third. With East Bengal having the luxury to play with 4 foreigners, it will be a toss up between Brazilian striker Alexander da Silva and young but promising Robin Singh.
ThehardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal): The “double-cylinder”, who is enjoying a rich vein of form this season, will be the main architect behind East Bengal’s creative play. He can prove to be too hot to handle for the Chonbury FC defenders, playing the “bottom of the diamond” role in Morgan’s 4-1-2-1-2 system. His dead ball expertise will also prove to be vital for the Red-&-Gold brigade.
East Bengal 2-1 Chonburi FC