When Bengaluru FC step on the field to take on Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya of Iraq on 5th November 2016 in Doha, it will be an historic moment for Indian Football.
For a nation torn between the Indian Super League and the I-League, Bengaluru FC have provided a breath of fresh air by becoming the first Indian club to reach the finals of the AFC Cup – Asia’s second biggest club tournament after the AFC Champions League. Standing between them and the crown are the mighty Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya of Iraq who have been forced to play their home matches in Doha because of the security concerns in Iraq.
Team News And Tactical Brief
Coached by Samir Kadhim, Al-Jawiya or Air Force Club have lost just one game in the entire tournament and have pumped in as many as 30 goals in the eleven matches they have played in the tournament. Based out of Baghdad, Al-Jawiya are one of the most successful Iraqi clubs and won the Iraq FA Cup in 2016.
Between the posts, it will be Fahad Talib who will be starting for Al-Jawiya. The 22-year-old custodian was the starting goalkeeper for Iraq U-23 in the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship in Qatar.
Air Force Club have made attack their priority and hence have mostly gone in with a three-man backline. It is expected that they will start with a similar backline given that Bengaluru play with a lone striker upfront.
30-year-old Ali Al Saadi from Lebanon is expected to start in center and will be entrusted with the job of keeping the hardworking C. K. Vineeth under check. Ali captained the side in the second semifinal match against Al-Ahed and also scored against India in the 2009 Nehru Cup. He is likely to be accompanied in the defense by 24-year-olds Sameh Saeed Mujbel and Ali Bahjat Fadhil. Both Sameh and Fadhil are key members of the Iraqi national team and have also represented Iraq at the U-23 level.
The five man midfield will seen 27-year-old Syrian international Zaher Midani in the defensive midfield role. Midani has played 35 matches for Syria and will be tasked with helping out the three-man defense.
28 year old Osama Ali Mohammed, who has five national team caps to his name, is likely to slot in the center of the the midfield for the hosts alongside Midani. Another key Syrian player in the team line up is the 23-year-old Hamid Mido who has started in all the eleven games Al-Jawiya have played in the AFC cup 2016. The central midfielder has represented Syria in all age group levels and will look to dictate play in the heart of the midfield.
20 year old Humam Tariq, who in 2012 became the youngest Iraqi player to play for the senior national team, is expected to start on the left side of the midfield. An attacking player, Tariq is rated highly for his passing vision and skills, and is an integral member of the Iraqi national team – a hypothesis that can be verified by the fact that he already has 33 caps to his name. 22 year old Ahmed Abdulameer Khadim is likely to complete the five man midfield for the hosts.
15 of the 30 goals that Al-Jawiya have scored in the tournament have come from the 27-year-old Hammadi Ahmad. The striker has scored goals in all stages of the tournament – be it the group stages, round of sixteen, quarterfinals and the semifinals, and is the main reason why Al-Jawiya play an attacking game. He has won the man of the match award six times and is one of the contenders for the player of the tournament.
Hammadi Ahmad has six goals in thirty five games for Iraq and is undoubtedly the most important player in the team at the moment. Amjad Radhi who in 2012 finished runners-up in the AFC Cup with Erbil SC is likely to start alongside Hammadi in the attack. 26 year old Radhi is an Iraqi international and finished as the top goal scorer in 2012 AFC Cup.
Possible Starting XI (3-5-2): Fahad Talib; Ali Bahjat Fadhil, Ali Al Saadi, Sameh Saeed Mujbel; Humam Tariq, Zaher Midani, Osama Ali Mohammed, Ahmed Abdulameer Khadim, Hamid Mido; Hammadi Ahmad, Amjad Radhi
Bengaluru FC are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to become the first Indian side to win the AFC Cup and are trying to reach out to the Indian diaspora in Doha through various means to convince them to cheer them on the 5th. Despite coming into existence only three seasons ago, Bengaluru FC have made sure that their achievements will be spoken about in years to come.
Amrinder Singh has been Bengaluru’s first choice custodian ever since he joined the JSW backed side in 2015 but he will be missing from action having picked up two bookings. In his absence, Lalthuammawia Ralte will be starting under the bar.
A hallmark of Bengaluru FC under Albert Roca has been their tight defense. The team solidly defended their one goal advantage in the second away leg against Tampine Rovers and also kept the JDT at bay for most periods in the second leg at Bengaluru. Juan Antonio and John Johnson have blunted everything that has been thrown at them so far but they will be up against their toughest test in form of Hammadi Ahmad in this match.
Both Johnson and Antonio are over six feet tall and it will be up to them to keep the well built Al-Jawiya strikers at bay. Rino Anto will take his place on the right side of the defense while Nishu Kumar, who is a product of the AIFF elite academy, will take his place on the left. Both Rino and Nishu moved ahead freely in the second leg against JDT but against Al-Jawiya they may have well have to prioritize the defense.
Cameron Watson was seen supporting the defense when Anto and Nishu surged ahead in the match against JDT. The former U-20 Australian international will be once again seen sitting in front of the back four and his role against an attack minded Al-Jawiya side will be really crucial.
Playing in a double pivot role alongside Watson will be Álvaro Rubio who was signed by Bengaluru from Real Valladolid. 37 year old Rubio who brings with him the experience of playing in La-Liga has been impressive with his distribution and shielding of the ball and this makes him a key player in the side. Rubio will have to put in another good shift if Bengaluru FC have to enjoy the lion’s share of the possession.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh stamped his class in the semifinal with the equalizer in the first leg and two assists in the second leg. Roca has deployed Eugene in a slightly advanced position as compared to Ashley Westwood but the midfield maestro has been impressive in an attacking role as well. Eugene’s set piece deliveries will once again be an important tool in Bengaluru’ s attacks.
Sunil Chhetri who scored a brace in the second leg, including an amazing second goal from outside the box, will be looking to put in another inspirational shift in this match. Despite not playing as front line striker, Chhetri has been among the goals and will be looking to exploit the gaps in the three man Al-Jawiya defense. Chhetri has an uncanny nack of rasing his level and one can expect another industrious performance from the Indian skipper in what will be the biggest match of his career.
Alwyn George will play on the right side of the three man attacking midfield though one can’t rule out the use of Udanata Singh later in the game. Despite not having scored in the semifinals, CK Vineeth earned praise for his tireless work-rate and this is something that could prove useful for Bengaluru in their quest to stretch the three man Al-Jawiya defense. The coordination between Chhetri, Eugene and Vineeth has developed over the years and this will no doubt work to Albert Roca’ side.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Lalthuammawia Ralte; Nishu Kumar, Juan Antonio, John Johnson, Rino Anto; Cameron Watson, Álvaro Rubio; Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Alwyn George; CK Vineeth
Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya 1-2 Bengaluru FC
It is expected to be a tight encounter between two sides desperate to prove themselves on the continental level but Bengaluru’ s drive and quest to put India on the football map of Asia should give them enough motivation. TheHardTackle predicts a narrow win for the I League champions.