Balewadi Stadium, Pune
22th April 2014
AFC Cup Group H match between Pune FC and Kitchee SC seems to be a formality at the moment. The visitors Kitchee SC are the group leaders and are in no danger of losing their position at the summit or in the knock-out stage. Pune FC currently occupies the bottom spot in Group H and are yet to register a win in continental competitions. Red Lizards best performance in AFC Cup 2014 was when these sides met in Hong Kong. Pune FC produced a spirited come back to earn a creditable draw after going down by 2 goals in the first half.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Pune FC will be without a number of their players including Duhou Pierre and are likely to field a youthful side once again in the AFC Cup competition. Stand in skipper Riga Mustapha Rahmat had said that “Douhou, Calum and me have been working together helping the young players at our club. So tomorrow, it won’t be much of a difference.” It’s a clear indication that the Pune FC academy players are set to get few more minutes under their belt tomorrow. The hosts current form has been dismal to say the least and the sole shining light this season is the development of few youngsters from within the academy. Head Coach Mike Snoei has disappointed the Pune FC faithful as he has failed to deliver the goods and it remains to been how long he will remain at the helm of affairs.
Arup Debnath might be reinstated between the sticks for this non consensual affair. Youngster Salam Ranjan Singh had played a good number of games this season due to Anas Edathodikka’s run of injuries. Even though it has costed the defensive solidarity of Pune FC, the youngster is expected to learn from his mistakes to get better. Othallo Tabia, Calum Angus and Gurjinder Kumar are expected to complete the back four.
In the absence of reliable Duhou Pierre, Arata Izumi and Mumtaz Akthar will have a huge role to play in controlling the midfield battle. Mumtaz and Arata are both capable of spraying the ball around, but their challenge will be to stop the dynamic opposition from wrecking havoc. Arata is a willing runner and he is expected to get behind their defence with his well timed runs. Mumtaz will be entrusted with the responsibility of breaking up opposition attacks.
In the attacking front, the burden of expectations will be on stand in skipper Riga Mutapha Rahmat, who is expected to play in the hole. He will be flanked by Pune born forward Prakash Thorat and Anthony D’Souza. Lester Fernandez is also expected to play a part in this game during the latter stages. The goal scoring responsibility will be once again entrusted on academy product Shamboi Haokip as Mirjan Pavlovic is expected to contribute towards the closing minutes as a super sub.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Arup Debnath; Othallo Tabia, Salam Ranjan Singh, Calum Angus, Gurjinder Kumar; Arata Izumi, Mumtaz Akthar; Prakash Thorat, Riga Mustapha, Anthony D’Souza; T Haokip.
The run away leaders of Hong Kong first division has produced similar performances in AFC Cup Group H as well. With 13 points already secured in this Group, they have the liberty to rest some of their top performers for this dead rubber. Spanish striker Juan Belencoso has been firing on all cylinders for the hong kong side and he leads the scoring charts in AFC Cup 2014 with 8 goals registered to his name.
Kitchee SC‘s 3-4-3 formation is very dynamic and attack oriented. They have pumped in goals for fun in the matches they played so far and are expected to trouble scorers in Pune as well. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to maintain their fluidity and dynamism in a heavily rain soaked pitch. Defenders Recio and Comi are an integral part of the flexible system and their game reading abilities has stood out in the tournament so far. Both of them haven’t travelled with the squad and it will be interesting to see how the youngsters will step up in their absence.
The midfield has ably supported the Kitchee attacks so far and their unpredictability has hurt the opposition more than anything. Lam and Gao are the notable players who are expected to torture the Pune FC players. Youngsters Robson and Wan are expected to get a look in for this game. They had to call off their practice session due to heavy rain and it remains to be seen how they adapt to the conditions. Their strike force consists of the fluent Belencoso supported by veteran Tarres and the lively youngster Huang Yang. With their place guaranteed for next round and in the rain soaked conditions, Kitchee SC are expected to play it safe in Pune.
Probable Starting XI (3-4-3): Whang, Cheung, Jang, Tsang; Hon, Lam, Robson, Wan; Deshuai, Belencoso, Tarres.
Players to watch
Arata Izumi(Pune FC)
The return to fitness of Arata Izumi has been a huge relief for Pune FC as they have got a willing runner to cover all the blades of grass in the Balewadi Stadium. Arata will be the lynchpin in midfield, as the play-maker is expected to have a major say in the proceedings. His ability to make well timed forays into the opposition box might yield the results for Pune FC. The red lizards hopes of taking the game to the opposition is going to rest with Arata Izumi’s performance on the pitch. He was very lively in the games against East Bengal and can be a thorn in the flesh for Kitchee FC.
Juan Belencoso (Kitchee SC)
The Spaniard has been in fine goal scoring form this season and is currently topping the charts with 8 goals in AFC Cup competitions. He is very fluid for a number 9 and links up very well with his team mates. The Spaniard is a threat both on the ground as well as in air. He runs the channels very cleverly and it might lead to creating an opening in Pune FC defence.
Pune FC 1 – 1 Kitchee SC
AFC Cup Group H match between Pune FC and Kitchee SC is almost a dead rubber with nothing at stake and the heavy rains are expected to play spoil sport in the proceedings. Both teams are expected to carry out some whole sale changes to check out their bench strength and to promote youth. Kitchee isn’t going to risk their important players while Pune FC has nothing to lose apart from the wooden spoon. With a number of youngsters trying to prove a point to the management, Pune FC stands a fair chance to grab an inconsequential point in this dull affair.