Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
February 27, 2013
India’s Federation Cup champions and the runners up of the 2011-12 edition of the I-League, East Bengal are all set to take on Asian giants in Asia’s second best tournament, in what is termed as the Europe League equivalent in Asia with the Kolkatan outfit slated to host Malaysia Super League side, Selangor FA on the 27th of February.
East Bengal will further take on Vietnamese side, Xuan Thanh Saigon FC, while the fourth spot in Group-H is occupied by the Singapore outfit of Tampine Rovers. After East Bengal fared horrendously in the last edition of the AFC Cup, being knocked out of the first round, failing to register a single point under their belt, losing all their six matches in the first round, the Red and Golds would be looking to make some amends, albeit it looks highly unlikely. Though, with the AIFF allowing the Indian players to be back from the camp, things certainly look better for the I-League outfit.
East Bengal got back on track after their title surge faced constant hiccups throughout the course of the season until late after getting to a fairytale start leaking just a solitary goal in their nine games.
East Bengal will have to pull a rabbit off their hat if they are to have any chance of settling scores after a disappointing stint at the last edition of Asia’s second tier competition, where the Kolkata outfit failed to open their account losing all six of their games.
East Bengal host Selanogar FC in the opening tie of the group with even a draw being a fantastic result for the men in Red and Gold. Englishman Trevor James Morgan, who normally is an advocate of a traditional 4-4-2 formation may resort to a 4-5-1 formation in what is East Bengal’s biggest challenge in awe of trying to close down oppositions and tighten the midfield to prevent soft goals even though the Red and Golds have the best defence in the I-League by some distance, but that doesn’t count for anything in the AFC Cup.
Morgan is expected to start the inform Abhijit Mondal in goal, while Okpara is set to lead the line of defence. In absence of Arnab to injury, Morgan might be forced to give the tall Gurwinder Singh a start ahead of India first team regular, Raju Gaikwad. The full-backs is an area that has seen changes more than often this term for East Bengal, but Harmanjot Khabra and Saumik Dey are likely to make the cut.
With Ishfaq Ahmed set to miss the first three games through suspension, the Indian version of Xabi Alonso, the deep lying playmaker, Mehtab Hossain is likely to start alongside Lalrindika Ralte, while Penn Orji is set to don the role of the man just behind the striker, Edeh Chidi. Who will occupy the wings is a question still unanswered.
With East Bengal proficient in their defence, it is likely that the I-League side will employ counter attacking tactics with the Red and Golds looking to sit back and prevent any goals while looking for a goal on the break. With the quality in their side and a coach of the stature of Morgan at the helm, the Kolkatan outfits should be able to make some mark in the competition, but things don’t look to rosy for the Federation Cup champions. Bengal go ahead against Selangor FA in their first match on 27th at the Salt Lake Stadium.
Probable line-up: Abhijit Mondal (GK), Harmanjot Khabra, Okpara, Gurwinder, Saumik, Mehtab, Ralte, Penn, Lobo, Sanju, Chidi
There would be more to the game on Wednesday which will see a former almost Red and Golds player returning to the City of Joy after a long gap of three years with a new team, Selanogar FA. The Lebanese International Ramez Dayoub was with the Kolkata outfit for a short period of three months in 2009, but failed to make an appearance for the team as his club then, Safa FC declined a release.
The most successful club in the Malaysian football history managed a respectable third place in the League last season, but made it to the AFC Cup since second placed Singapore Lion’sXII is a team managed by the Singapore FA, thus deeming them ineligible for the coveted trophy. They head into their third AFC Cup, with their best performance dating back to 2006 when they managed to make it to the quarter finals.
In great form this season sitting pretty on top, only second on goal difference, the Shah Alam city based club is going to give any side a run for its money. Selanogar, more popularly known as the Red Giants is a formidable side generally operating in a familiar modern day 4-2-3-1 formation. The side is known for their attacking wing play and boast of the man known as the ‘Malaysian Cafu’ in Mahali Jasuli.
The side allowed only two foreigners in their side in the league will have an option of four foreigners in the AFC Cup as per guidelines have gone on to recruit Liberian striker Francis Doe to their team besides a couple of Slovakians in Michael Kubala and Peter Chrappan following the departure of Balaban. The key players for the Malaysian outfit will certainly be defender Ramez Dayoub, striker Francis Doe and captain Mohammed Asraruddin.
Solid at the back and gritty in his defending, Dayoub is certainly a wall for the Red and Golds to break in order to get past. Ability to operate as a central defender and a holding midfielder speaks volumes of the versatility of the Lebanese and just adds value to an already outstanding player. Known for his goal poaching abilities, Doe was the joint top scorer in the Malaysian League last season while he was with Terengganu FA. Doe has had spells with MLS sides New York Red Bulls and DC United and with his wealth of experience in various parts of the World, the Liberian is certain to cause a resolute East Bengal backline a headache.
The 24 year old full-back is certainly a game changer. With pace and trickery up his sleeve, Asraruddin can wreak havoc in the opposition camp. Having helped Malaysia into the AFC U-20 Championship, the youngster has had trials at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, which would clear all doubts of the youngster’s potential if there were any.
Probable Line-up: Shahrullai, Jasuli , Asraruddin, Dayoub, Bahrom , Kunanlan, Juso, Gurusamy, Zahini, Azmi, Doe