Bengaluru FC Media
It’s been billed as the game that could be the start a revolution for one country and the resurrection of another as JSW Bengaluru FC take on Iraq’s Air Force Club in the final of the AFC Cup to be played at Doha’s Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium, today evening.
After a year of battle that has seen 36 of the top clubs from the continent go head-to-head, the Blues and Air Force Club are the last teams standing in what is a first appearance in the final of an Asian competition for both sides.
“We’re up against a strong team but it would mean a lot for Indian football if we won the title. That’s a prospect that excites us and will drive us tomorrow. They have scored many goals, have a striker that’s regularly scoring and are physically strong but I’ve told our boys to be ready for battle and we will hope our work ethic gives us a good result,” said BFC coach Albert Roca while addressing the press on the eve of the game.
Much of the pre-game focus has been on Lalthuammawia Ralte, the Bengaluru ‘keeper who will be playing his first competitive game since turning out for the Blues in a 5-3 home win against Ayeyawady United in the group stages in April this year. Ralte comes in for first-choice Amrinder Singh who misses the big game owing to a suspension. But Roca sounded confident of the shot-stopper from Mizoram who was brilliant in the Blues’ Federation Cup-winning season. “Mawia is a good goalkeeper who has been pushing Amrinder to do well consistently and though he has not featured much this season, he has been a thorough professional at training, which is why we are not the least bit worried about this situation,” he said.
Suspensions have also hit Air Force who will be without influential midfielder Bashar Rasan Bonyan and defender Samal Saeed. Bonyan picked up a straight red after scoring a brace in Air Force’s 3-2 win over Al-Ahed in the second leg of the semifinal.
Bengaluru will look to fall back on some inspired performances through their campaign that saw the Blues oust defending champion Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semifinal (4-2) as they come up against a side that has lost just one game in the tournament. The club from Iraq will turn to their talismanic striker Hammadi Ahmad who, with 15 goals from 11 games, is the tournament’s leading goal scorer.
Roca has a fully fit squad to choose from with the exception of Australian midfielder Cameron Watson who is down with a stomach bug. “Cameron’s been down with a stomach ache but we’re doing all we can to make sure he’s ready for the game,” said Roca.
The Blues are likely to find good support in the stands on Saturday given the large presence of the Indian community in Doha, something Roca said his boys would welcome. “We’ve met so many Indian people since we’ve come here and they have all promised to come out in numbers and back us which is wonderful for the boys.” The game kicks off at 9.30 pm IST and will be telecast live on Star Sports 1 and Star HD 1.