Nay Pyi Taw FC
Balewadi Stadium, Pune, 26th February , 2014
After a disappointing 3-0 loss to Hanoi T&T in the 1st round of the AFC Champions League playoffs, that all but ended the club’s hopes of playing in the main stages of Asia’s elite club competition, Pune FC will now begin their campaign in the AFC Cup, the second tier continental competition, against Myanmar’s Nay Pyi Taw FC at the Balewadi Stadium on Wednesday. Placed in a tough Group H, alongside Tampine Rovers, Kitchee SC and their opponents for Wednesday, Nay Pyi Taw, the Red Lizards will hope to start the tournament well and pick up all the three points from the opening game.
Team News and Tactical Brief
After an alarming dip in form, Pune FC have managed to pick up 4 points from their last two I-League games. A 2-0 win over Durand Cup and IFA Shield champions Mohammedan Sporting will go some way in restoring the team’s confidence, but Pune FC still haven’t been quite convincing enough in recent times. With the Red Lizards fighting for the I-League title this season, the club will hope to return to their early season form as soon as possible, especially with the Indian league season heading to its crucial final phase. The game against Nay Pyi Taw could, thus, be crucial in boosting the team’s morale, provided the team picks up a positive result.
Amrinder Singh looks like an undisputed starter between the posts, and will hope to keep another clean sheet at home after the victory over Mohammedan. Calum Angus, Zohmingliana Ralte, Salam Ranjan Singh and Srikanth Ramu have been Mike Snoei’s first choice back four in the last couple games, and are likely to keep their starting places against Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday. With Pune FC’s problems at the back quite noticeable during the last couple of months, Mike Snoei will hope that the defence turned a new leaf during the win over Mohammedan, and will look for an improved outing from his backline.
In the middle of the park, Anthony D’Souza, Douhou Pierre, Dhanpal Ganeshan, Lester Fernandez, Gabriel Fernandes and Lalrempuia Fanai are likely to vie for the starting slots. With Nay Pyi Taw boasting of a very good midfield, Snoei’s formation at the center of the park will be interesting to watch. The Dutchman had opted for a four-men midfield during the win over Mohammedan, and could well start with the same setup against the Burmese visitors. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lester Fernandez making his first Asian start for the club on Wednesday. Up front, the in-form Thongkhosiem Haokip looks set to start, with Mustapha Riga likely to be his strike partner if Snoei opts for two forwards. Riga, a new arrival this season, hasn’t really cemented his place up front, with few impressive outings for the club so far. The former Bolton striker will hope that things start getting better for him at Pune, starting with the game on Wednesday.
Probable Starting XI: Amrinder Singh; Zohmingliana Ralte, Calum Angus, Salam Ranjan Singh, Srikanth Ramu; Anthony D’Souza, Douhou Pierre, Dhanpal Ganeshan, Gabriel Fernandez; Thongkhosiem Haokip, Mustapha Riga.
Nay Pyi Taw FC
Nay Pyi Taw qualified to the AFC Cup courtesy of their runners-up finish in the premier division football league of Myanmar, around 4 years since their formation. Like Pune FC, Nay Pyi Taw are also making their debut at the continental stage, and will hope to give a good account of themselves in their first appearance in the tournament.
Van Larr looks set to start beneath the bar, while Nay Zaw Aung, Obadin Aikhena, Aye San and Latt Ko Ko Aye are the likely starters in defence. Obadin Aikhena is one of the stars in the team, and the Nigerian defender will be crucial to the team’s chances on Wednesday. Jung Yoon Sik, Ni Maung Maung Aung and Argentine import Delgado Carlos Alberto should start in midfield, while Aung Kyaw Naing and Phyae Phyo Oo will slot in on the wings. Jung, Maung Aung and Delgado will look to work the ball around and snuff out the Pune medios. Moreover, the talented wingmen, Naing and Oo, could cause serious havoc in the Pune flanks, and the Pune fullbacks will have to stay alert to the threat. Up front for Nay Pyi Taw, Michele Di Piedi should start the game. The Italian forward has abundance of experience from playing in different leagues across the world, and will have the onus of getting the goals for his club.
Probable Starting XI: Van Larr; Nay Zaw Aung, Obadin Aikhena, Aye San, Latt Ko Ko Aye; Jung Yoon Sik, Ni Maung Maung Aung; Delgado Carlos Alberto, Aung Kyaw Nyang, Pyae Phyo Oo; Michele Di Piedi.
Players to watch
Thongkhosiem Haokip (Pune FC): The Manipuri forward has been in fine form recently, and is highly likely to start on Wednesday. This has been the breakout season for the young forward, and his performances haven’t gone unnoticed among the observers. Come Wednesday evening, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Haokip gets his name on the score-sheet against Nay Pyi Taw.
Aung Kyaw Nyang (Nay Pyi Taw FC): The Burmese club’s right flanker has a knack of drifting into the middle and having a go at the goal. Moreover, his pace could cause some serious trouble in Pune’s left flank. Nyang will be crucial to his team’s chances on Wednesday, while Mike Snoei will have to make sure that his defenders keep an eye on the tricky winger during the game.
Pune FC 2-1 Nay Pyi Taw FC
With Pune FC not in quite a good run of form, barring its recent win over Mohammedan Sporting, things are likely to be quite close between the two evenly-matched sides. That being said, the Red Lizards should have enough firepower to edge out their Burmese counterparts by a narrow margin. TheHardTackle predicts a close 2-1 victory for Pune FC.