FC Istiklol have won their fourth consecutive Tajikistan league title last weekend and that would certainly boost their confidence ahead of the Inter-Zonal final’s first leg on Wednesday against India’s Bengaluru FC.
The Tajikistan side last lost a competitive game back in September last year in the Vysshaya League. Since then they have drawn four and won as many as 19 matches.
On the other hand, Bengaluru FC will be buoyed by the 0-0 result they secured in Pyongyang, DPR Korea against April 4.25 SC. They won the first leg 3-0 in Bengaluru with goals from Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Lenny Rodrigues.
The Blues haven’t had much of match practice as the season is yet to commence in India. Coach Albert Roca has made one change to his 18-member squad with Zohmingliana Ralte replacing Joyner Lourenco.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s addition to the squad has already reaped rewards for the Bangalore-based outfit as he has been the standout performer over the two legs against April 4.25. He made a string of saves in the home leg before going on top stop a penalty in DPR Korea. His addition to the squad has certainly bolstered the squad whose goalkeepers have been the weak link in the past.
Harmanjot Khabra will keep his spot as the right-back being one of the trusted lieutenants of Roca’s team. On the left, Nishu Kumar would get the nod ahead of Collin Abranches and Subhasish Bose. Spanish centre-back Juanan will lead the defensive line and bring all his experience into play.
The midfield shall see Erik Paartalu who has been impressive in the defensive role. Alongside him will feature Dimas Delgado who is the creative force in the team and Lenny Rodrigues.
Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Toni Dovale will lead the line. Udanta, in particular, has been in good touch and his pace will certainly bother the Tajikistan team’s defence.
Bengaluru would look to maintain a clean-sheet and possibly nick a crucial away goal. Should they win the tie over the two legs, they would make it into the AFC Cup final for the second consecutive season. And this time they have a chance of hosting the final as well.
FC Istiklol reached the 2015 AFC Cup final in what was their tournament debut and will be supremely confident of reaching the showpiece match this time around, given their imperious form in the run-up to this game.
They have been extremely strong at home, scoring 10 goals and conceding just the one goal in four games in the competition. This included a comprehensive 4-0 win over Ceres Negros in the Inter-Zonal semifinal first leg which effectively killed the tie off before the second leg. This is what Bengaluru FC need to be wary about.
Istiklol are expected to line up in a 4-4-2 formation which has served them very well so far. Leading the lines for the Tajik team on Tuesday will be AFC Cup's leading goalscorer Maunchekhr Dzhalilov who has seven strikes to his name already and he will be assisted by Russian forward Dmitry Barkov.
The midfield will be anchored by Ghanaian David Mawutor and Amirbek Juraboev. Bengaluru FC also need to be wary of the Istiklol fullbacks Oleksandr Stetsenko and Akhtam Nazarov, with the latter being a goal threat with his marauding runs from the left flank.
All to play for this Wednesday with a place in the AFC Cup final up for grabs.
Kick-off at 1930 IST.