BENGALURU: History beckons for Bengaluru FC once again. After becoming the first Indian club to reach the AFC Cup final last year, they are hoping to emulate the feat. On Wednesday, they face Tajikistan’s Istiklol FC in the AFC Cup Zonal final. A two-goal win margin will set up a final clash with last edition’s champions Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, the West Zone champions this time, on November 4 at home.
BFC, still a work in progress, had overcome April 25 SC in the inter-zonal playoff semifinal. Having managed that successfully over two legs, they faced Istiklol FC in the zonal finals. While the 0-1 loss in the first leg suggests BFC still hold an edge in their own backyard, it’s anything but. At Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Diwali night, BFC have a mountain to climb.
The loss was the worst result BFC could afford to bring home and they did that. But the manner of the loss does not suggest BFC will easily overturn the deficit. In the first 90 minutes, despite enjoying 63 per cent of possession, BFC managed to test Istiklol’s Serbian custodian Nikola Stosic only twice. But for Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s acrobatic efforts, BFC would have been staring at a bigger defeat. “It’s difficult to get to the AFC Cup final and the first leg suggests that we cannot concede more. But we have to score and to do that we need to be intelligent in our attacks. We have to discover the right moment to go forward and risk scoring. At the same time, we have to defend when they hit us on the counter,” coach Albert Roca said.
While BFC’s strength is midfield, against a physically strong opponent in Istiklol, they were no match in the first leg. The foreign recruits Toni Dovale and Dimas Delgado failed to make an impact in the attack, while Australian Erik Partaalu, who is more of an attacking midfielder, was used to support the backline. The over-defensive set-up in the first half didn’t go as per plan.
But once they switched gears bringing in Harmanjot Khabra after the break, they were left ruing the missed chances. “I’ve to change my plans a bit. Otherwise, it’ll be impossible to score. In the second half, we tried attacking and had three shots but we couldn’t convert them. That’s a shame,” Roca said.
However, Roca believes BFC can still pull off the job at the ‘fortress’.