Larkin Stadium, Johor Bahru
4th February, 2015
The first round of 2015 AFC Champions League qualifiers sees Malaysian champions Johor Darul Tazim play host to the champions of India Bengaluru FC. For Bengaluru this is the first time they are playing at the continental level while the hosts last played in the AFC Cup in 2009. The Men of steel would be looking to make India proud in the highest club tournament in India after Pune FC lost 3-0 in the first round of qualifiers last year.
Team News and Tactical Brief.
Johor Darul Tazim
Coached by Croatian Bojan Hodak, Johor Darul Tazim come into the match on a high having won the inaugural match of the 2015 season where they defeated Pahang 2-0. Bojan Hodak joined the club in 2014 and since then has done a remarkable job. The Southern Tigers as they are popularly known retained all of their foreign players and have a well balanced squad though they are likely to miss the services of midfielder Gary Steven Robbat who is currently training with Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
Mohd Farizal is expected to start under the bar for the hosts and with almost 30 international caps to his name, Farizal is expected to provide stability under the posts. The defense will be led by 31 year old Brazilian Marcos António who joined the Malaysian champions last season after spending a couple of years with Bundesliga side FC Nuremberg. He will be partnered in the heart of the defense by Malaysian international Abdul Radzak, who is an integral part of the club having having joined them in 2007. Radzak is known to spray long balls from the defense and also for scoring some long range goals. Both Marcos and Radzak are expected to keep an eye Sunil Chhetri who in undoubtedly the key player for Bengaluru. Mahali Jasuli and Fadhli Shas ere expected to tread the right ant the left wings.
It is the the midfield however where the hosts pack a punch. Junior Eldstal will line up as a defensive midfielder and the pacy Malaysian-Swedish footballer posses a good shot. The 23 year old is a known to be a good tackler and his duel with Eugeneson could well decide the course of this match. Shakir Shaari is expected to lineup as alongside Junior in a 4-2-3-1 as the second defensive midfielder.
27 year old Safiq Rahim with 14 international goals to his name in expected to play as a play maker and dictate play for the hosts. Safiq is a free kick specialist and provided assists for both the goals in his team’ s 2-0 win over Pahang. 28 year old S. Kunanlan signed by Johar from Selangor is expected to whip in crosses from the right while the Argentine Jorge Pereyra Díaz is expected to take his place on the left. Diaz had a prolific last season where he scored 8 goals from 9 matches he featured in. Unarguably the most important player in the Johor squad in 33 year old former Argentina international Luciano Figueroa. Luciano joined Johor in 2014 from Greek club Panathinaikos and has featured in 15 games fro Argentina and scored nine goals. The striker scored eleven goals for Johor last season and is likely to be the focal point of their attacks.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3- 1): Mohd Farizal; Fadhli Shas, Marcos António, Abdul Radzak, Mahali Jasuli; Junior Eldstal, Shakir Shaari; Jorge Pereyra Díaz, Safiq Rahim, S. Kunanlan; Luciano Figueroa
Having taken the Indian Football scene by winning the I-League in their debut season, Bengaluru FC have had a rather mixed start to their 2014/15 season. The team failed to inspire in the Durand Cup and made a slow start in the Federation Cup though they eventually emerged as the winners. The Ashley Westwood coached side have since then lost two of their first three matches in the I-League which included a 3-1 loss to Pune at home. The team however bounced back in their last I-League match drubbing Royal Wahingdoh 4-0 away from home and would look to carry on the momentum in the match against Johor Darul.
Lalthuammawia Ralte will start under the post for the I-League champions. Bengaluru’ s back four will hold the key to their fortunes in this match. Ashley Westwood would hope for a good show from his central defensive pairing of John Johnson and Curtis Osano both of whom played stellar roles in Bengaluru’ s I-League triumph last season and the Federation Cup this season. Bengaluru’ s chances of progressing through to the next round will depend to a large extent on Johnson and Osano who will be entrusted with the task of keeping Luciano Figueroa and Jorge Pereyra Díaz under check. Rino Anto and Keegan Pereira will occupy the right and left back spot and would look to contribute going forward as has been the case so far. Anto in particular notched up a couple of assists in Bengaluru’ s last match against Wahingdoh. Despite a settled back-four Bengaluru have not looked as tidy at the back as last season and against the likes of former Argentina striker Luciano Figueroa, they will have to be at their best.
Former England U-20 skipper Josh Walker is likely to sit in front of the back four and operate as a deep-lying playmaker spraying passes ahead. Walker role will be important in the defense given the attacking instincts of the full backs. Eugeneson Lyngdoh has impressed one and all with his creativity in the center of the park after joining Bengaluru at the start of the season and the hardworking midfielder already has three goals to his name. Thoi Singh who comes after scoring a brace against Wahingdoh is likely to complete the three man midfield for the visitors. The Bengaluru midfield which has been found wanting on a few occasions this season has its task cut out against a strong Johor midfield.
Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri will be seen on the left side of the forward line as expected and the inspirational striker who finished as the top scorer in the Federation Cup will be looking to make a mark at the continental level. Chhetri enjoys playing in big matches and the team will look up to him for inspiration. CK Vinneth is likely to start as the forward at the expense of both Beikhokhei and Robin Singh while Sean Rooney, who is yet hit his peak form, will start as the target man upfront.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Lalthuammawia Ralte; Keegan Pereira, John Johnson, Curtis Osano, Rino Anto; Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Josh Walker, Thoi Singh; Sunil Chhetri, Sean Rooney, CK Vinneth
Johor Darul Tazim 2-1 Bengaluru FC
The battle of the Indian and Malaysian champions is expected to be a tight affair but a potent strike force and the homse support gives Johor Darul Tazim a slight edge. Bengaluru are expected to put up a much better show than what Pune FC did last season but TheHardTackle predcits a narrow win for the hosts.