The two Indian heavyweights- Bengaluru FC and ATK Mohun Bagan, will meet in the Maldives on 18th August in the first match of their AFC Cup group stage. While the ATK Mohun Bagan team flew to Maldives after spending two weeks in Kolkata, the Bengaluru team arrived in Maldives much earlier and played against Club Eagles on Sunday. This will be a fascinating match as both clubs are highly motivated to start their Asian journey on a high note.
The Bengaluru team under Marco Pezzaiuoli has started well with two wins in as many matches. Bengaluru’s first match under Marco was against Nepal Army in a preliminary qualifier and they won 5-0 thanks to braces by Rahul Bheke and Cleiton Silva. The game was frustrating at times, with Bengaluru creating a lot but lacking in the final third. It wasn’t until the second half that Rahul Bheke scored from a set-piece that the floodgates finally opened. The Bengaluru team made amends in their second game against Club Eagles, playing better in the build-up, but their game was rusty, understandably because they had not played for some time. The problem of not being perfect in the final third still persisted with the forwards squandering multiple chances. It will be hard to create many chances against the Mariners, so Bengaluru will have to be clinical when they face them.
ATK Mohun Bagan had been considered a favorite to go through the group stage up until about last month. Their star defender Sandesh Jhingan mutually parted ways with the club to realize his dream of playing abroad. Similarly, the other defender, Tiri, did not join the camp because of COVID issues, and they will also be without the services of Prabir Das, Michael Soosairaj, and Pronoy Halder. While ATKMB’s team has certainly become weaker, they still possess the firepower to make it through the group stages. Other players will have to step up in the absence of the other star players. ATK Mohun Bagan hasn’t played since the ISL final nearly four months ago, and this may also affect their performance when they take on Bengaluru FC.
Bengaluru has traveled to the Maldives with a 29-member squad including the three foreign players- Cleiton Silva, Alan Costa, and Musava King. They had to sacrifice on the Asian foreign spot after failing to sign one in time amid the Erik Paartalu controversy. They have also promoted four reserve team players to the first-team squad along with their six new signings: Jayesh Rane, Rohit Kumar, Bidyasagar Singh, Sarthak Golui, Harmanpreet Singh, and Danish Farooq. All players will be available for this match as there is no major injury concern in the team.
ATK Mohun Bagan, as mentioned earlier, has some injury concerns in the team with forward Michael Soosairaj still recovering. Along with their Spanish defender Tiri, Prabir Das and Pronoy Halder did not travel with the team. Bagan has traveled with four foreigners- Carl McHugh, Roy Krishna, Hugo Boumous, and David Williams. The latter had arrived in Kolkata a few days before the team left for Male and so may not be in peak physical condition. The squad is a mix of youth with experience as Abhishek Suryavanshi, Ricky Shabong, Engson Singh and Sheikh Sahil have all found places in the 21-member squad.
Bengaluru FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sarthak Golui, Musava King, Alan Costa, Udanta Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan, Rohit Kumar, Jayesh Rane, Suresh Wangjam, Cleiton Silva, Sunil Chhetri
ATK Mohun Bagan: Amrinder Singh, Pritam Kotal, Carl McHugh, Sumit Rathi, Subhashish Bose, Lenny Rodrigues, Hugo Boumous, Roy Krishna, David Williams, Manvir Singh, Deepak Tangri
Despite the doubts ATK Mohun Bagan may have at the back, their attack is still a solid one, and Bengaluru may find it hard to defend against Roy Krishna, David Williams, or Hugo Boumous. Bengaluru will need to be offensive right from the word go and prevent ATK Mohun Bagan from getting any sort of advantage over them. Sarthak Golui and Alan Costa frequently fell short at the back during Sunday’s game, and Bengaluru will need to improve in order to hold off Bagan forwards.
Match Date -18th August 2021 (Wednesday)
Time – 16:30 IST
Venue – National Stadium, Male, Maldives
How to watch-: Star Sports Network
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