Indian Super League side Bengaluru FC will face Club Eagles of Maldives in a qualifying playoff of the AFC Cup at National Stadium, Malé (Maldives) on Sunday.
The playoff match, initially scheduled to be played in May, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The winners of this match will advance to Group D.
The playoff winners will join India’s ATK Mohun Bagan, Bashundhara Kings of Bangladesh and Maziya Sports & Recreation of Maldives in Group D.
Ahead of the match against Club Eagles, the club captain and skipper Sunil Chhetri spoke in a pre-match press conference.
“We’re are thankful that we can finally play a match, and we are looking forward to the game,” said Chhetri on Saturday.
Before clashing against each other, both clubs had played preliminary rounds back in May. Bengaluru FC won 5-0 over Nepal’s Tribhuvan Army, while Club Eagles beat Bhutan’s Thimphu FC by 2-0.
“We are very happy to be here in the Maldives. A lot of people have worked hard to make this tournament happen. We had a really good four weeks of pre-season, made some new signings, and we’re now in the Maldives where the hospitality has been very good,” said the 37-year old.
Bengaluru will be led by the German head coach Marco Pezzaiouli and will also rely on new Indian signings like Rohit Kumar, Bidyashagar Singh, Jayesh Rane, Danish Farooq, and Sarthak Golui. According to AFC rules, each team can have four foreigners into the squad; having an AFC country player is mandatory. Surprisingly, Bengaluru FC opted to choose only three.
Last year Bengaluru FC lost to Maziya S&RC in the playoff round, but later the AFC Cup 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic circumstances. The captain remembers this very well and emphasis performing better this time.
“After last season’s defeat to Maziya, we weren’t feeling well because we didn’t give our best performance. However, it has been a year now, and that game is in the past.”
“We are just focusing on our team, and as players, we are all eager to fight for a place in the first XI and give our coach a selection headache,” he added.
Glancing at records of Bengaluru in continental competition, the club has thrived in the AFC Cup, having finished runners-up in 2016 and making the Inter-Zonal final in 2017 and semi-finals a year later.
“This is a new campaign, and we will strive to do our best,” said Chhetri.
The winner will clash against ATK Mohun Bagan in the first group stage matchday on 18th August, later followed by Bashundhara Kings and Maziya S&SC on 21 and 24th August, respectively.
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