6th November 2018, 8:15 IST
It will be a clash of heavyweights when Salgaocar FC take on Bengaluru FC in the first semi-final of the 127th Durand Cup at the Tilak Maidan Stadium tomorrow. Both sides reached the last four stage of the tournament after topping their respective quarter-final groups, but it is fair to say that Bengaluru had to play the trickier opponents. Ashley Westwood’s side were in Group C and had to see out challenges from defending champions Mohammedan Sporting and Sesa Football Academy, while Salgaocar edged out Indian Navy FC and Laxmi Prasad in Group A to reach the semi-finals.
Performance Index, Team News and Tactical Brief:
Bengaluru started their Durand Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over Mohammedan Sporting. The defending champions, who are neck-deep in trouble due to financial insecurities surrounding the club, decided to take part in the tournament in a week’s notice. The I-League champions on the other hand were fully prepared for the Durand Cup and were favourites in the contest. And the Blues got off to a flying start after Sunil Chhetri opened the scoring, following a defensive lapse from the Kolkata outfit. Bengaluru doubled their advantage in the closing stages of the first half, courtesy of Eugeneson Lyngdoh’s strike. Although Mohammedan reduced their arrears in the 68th-minute through Alfred, Bengaluru held on to claim the full three points.
A sterner test awaited Bengaluru in their second game as SESA almost unsettled the Blues to reach the semi-finals of the Durand Cup. After a goalless first half, Indian skipper Chhetri was in hand again to give his side the lead. Bengaluru were awarded a penalty after SESA’s Ponif Vaz handled the ball inside the box, and Chhetri coolly converted the resultant spot-kick to make it 1-0 for Bengaluru in the 66th-minute. However, Agnelo Colaco equalised for SESA with just over 10 minutes remaining to spice up the game. Bengaluru, who needed a draw to go through the semi-finals, then looked to be heading out of the Durand Cup after Melwyn Fernandes gave SESA a shock lead in the second minute of injury-time. But Bengaluru were rewarded their second penalty of the game just two minutes later when Fernandes dragged John Johnson inside the box. Chhetri stepped up again and scored his second goal from the spot to help his side reach the semi-finals.
The two quarter-final group games showed Bengaluru are vulnerable at the back. The Blues are yet to keep a clean sheet in the tournament, and Westwood must work on his defence to keep Salgaocar at bay. Another worrying factor for Bengaluru is that they have thus far scored just once from open play.
Probable Starting Line-Up: Pawan Kumar, Keegan Pereira, John Johnson, N.S. Manju, Vishal Kumar, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Thoi Singh, Josh Walker, Beikhokhei Beingaichho, Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh
With Kumar at goal, Johnson and Manju will be at the heart of Bengaluru’s defence, while full-backs Pereira and Vishal will be expected to run down the flanks regularly to join in attacks. The trio of Lyngdoh, Thoi and Walker will provide the steel and solidity in midfield, in addition to offering creativity. The onus of scoring goals will lie on forwards Chhetri, Beikhokhei and Robin.
Salgaocar came in to the tournament on the back of a strong start in the Goa Professional League (GPL). The Greens, who have won seven and drawn two of their nine GPL fixtures thus far, began their Durand Cup adventure with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Indian Navy. Douhou Pierre started the ball rolling for Salgaocar by breaking the deadlock in the 16th minute before providing the assist for Aslon Oliveira’s goal just two minutes later. The Ivorian then completed his brace just after the half-time interval with a deft finish. Although Indian Navy pulled one back through Raman Lal in the 77th-minute, Gilbert Oliveira capped off Salgaocar’s scintillating display with an injury-time goal.
After their 4-1 rout of Indian Navy, Salgaocar were expected to blow aside Laxmi Prasad, but Derrick Pereira’s side endured a tough contest against the Tuff. The Greens made a good start to the game, but it were Laxmi Prasad who took the lead against the run of play in the 28th-minute when ND Opara headed home a corner. Salgaocar pressed hard for an equaliser and were rewarded on the brink of half-time as Pierre’s scorcher from outside the box found the back of the net. Both teams had chances to add to their tally in the second period, but it remained 1-1, which enabled Salgaocar to book their place in the next round of the Durand Cup.
Salgaocar, who are also yet to manage a shut-out in the tournament, suffered some jittery moments against Laxmi Prasad. Pereira is certain to have taken notice of the problems and is expected to duly work on them as Bengaluru pose far greater threats than Indian Navy and Laxmi Prasad. Salgaocar’s over-dependence on Pierre is also an unsettling factor for the Greens.
Probable Starting Line-Up: Karanjit Singh, Othallo Tabia, Gurjinder Kumar, Francis Kasonde, Augustin Fernandes, Rocus Lamare, Douhou Pierre, Bikash Jairu, Gilbert Oliveira, Thangjam Saran Singh, Aslon Oliveira
Salgaocar will look to keep their four-man defence solid against Bengaluru, who are pretty dangerous moving forward. Tabia, Kumar, Kasonde and Fernandes will form the defence with Karanjit guarding the goal. The Greens will pack their midfield with five players, namely Lamare, Jairu, Oliviera, Saran Singh and Pierre in order to stifle Bengaluru’s attacks. Aslon will be the lone man forward for Pereira’s side. Darryl Duffy may be introduced later if Salgaocar desperately seek a goal.
Players to Watch Out for
Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
The diminutive striker, who has already scored three goals in the Durand Cup, will be keen to add more to his tally. While playing for Bengaluru, Chhetri is normally deployed in a position just behind striker Robin. However, the new role has not reduced the 30-year-old’s goalscoring prowess, and Salgaocar defenders have to be ever-alert to have any chance of stopping Chhetri from finding the back of the net.
Douhou Pierre (Salgaocar FC)
The 26-year-old, who joined Salgaocar from Pune FC at the start of the season, has been in fine form in the Durand Cup. Pierre has already scored three goals in the tournament, including a super strike against Laxmi Prasad in Salgaocar’s previous outing. In addition, the Ivorian has also provided an assist, thus making him Salgaocar’s most vital player.
Salgaocar FC 1-2 Bengaluru FC
Being a semi-final fixture, both teams will look to start the game in a cautious manner. But it are the Blues who have slight edge over the Greens in reaching the final of the century-old tournament.