Bengaluru vs Tampines Rovers: Can Stags claim an advantage?
A game against unprepared Indian foes.
Kitchee 2-3 Bengaluru
Johor Darul Ta’zim 3-0 Bengaluru
Bengaluru 2-3 Aizawl
Aizawl 2-1 Bengaluru
- Bengaluru 2-1 Lao Toyota
Home United 1-0 Tampines
Ceres La Salle 2-3 Tampines
Tampines 2-1 Ceres
Tampines 1-2 Hougang United
- Warriors FC 2-3 Tampines
The Indian champions did well to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, as they overcame the much-fancied Kitchee SC 3-2 in the round of 16.
But since then, they have been beset with a host of departures, including that of highly-rated manager Ashley Westwood.
In his place, Albert Roca – a former assistant coach to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona – has been chosen as the club’s new manager. It has been a slow start for Roca, however, as the club won two and lost two during pre-season.
The Stags will be viewed as marginal favourites going into this tie, but they must exercise some caution playing away from home.
Tampines themselves are not in the best of shape for this tie, with a number of personnel suffering long-term injuries. A loss to Home United in the league prior to this game did not help boost morale or confidence.
What will hurt them most is the loss of forward Fazrul Nawaz for the remainder of the season due to an anterior cruciate ligament tear, leaving the Stags fairly short on firepower up front.
But unlike the Indian side, Tampines are still in the midst of the S.League, so they are expected to be in much better shape compared to their peers.
As mentioned, Fazrul Nawaz will miss this game, as will long-term absentee Shahdan Sulaiman.
In Fazrul’s absence, many had expected striker Sufian Anuar to be given the chance to partner Billy Mehmet up front.
However, in Tampines’ last game, coach Akbar Nawas curiously started captain Mustafic Fahrudin – a midfielder by trade – in attack while keeping Sufian on the bench. It remains to be seen whether Akbar did enough to keep Sufian fresh for this tie, but one suspects the latter will be given a run out against Bengaluru.
Mehmet, who missed out in the 3-2 win over Mohun Bagan due to suspension, will return for this game too.
Bengaluru has lost a host of key players but their talismanic striker Sunil Chhetri will be available for this game. The striker has struck three times in this competition and his team will be depending on him heavily to produce the goods.
Key Battle: Jermaine Pennant vs Amrinder Singh
As things stand, this is really a good chance for Tampines to claim a favourable result before the return leg.
Pennant will be looked to for inspiration, as the Stags cry out for creativity and flair to unlock Bengaluru’s defence.
Pennant has played in plenty of big games before – after all, he did feature in Liverpool’s 2007 Champions League final against AC Milan – and his experience should aid him well here.
Tampines will have to navigate past the 2016 I-League’s best goalkeeper first, after Amrinder claimed the accolade with nine clean sheets.
Only 23, Amrinder is rated highly by I-League observers and many have played up his positional awareness, especially when it comes to defending set-pieces.
Tampines coach Akbar has done relatively well since he took over from V.Sundramoorthy and he has always advocated an offensive game regardless of who his side plays.
Injuries have forced Akbar to adopt several unorthodox tactics with regards to his players’ position and he might well do the same again for this game.
Bengaluru’s Roca has admitted his side is not as ready as it should be for this tie, but he has worked hard to ensure the Indian champions can match up to Tampines.
India under-19 defender Gursimrat Singh has been signed while former Blues Vishal Kumar and Darren Caldeira have rejoined the club.
Roca will most likely be fielding an all-Indian strikeforce, with Chhetri partnering Daniel Lalhimpuia, Alwyn George and C.K.Vineeth
Facts and Figures
Neither side has reached the AFC Cup semi-finals before.
Both side’s top-scorers – Mehmet and Chhetri for Tampines and Bengaluru respectively – have scored three goals apiece in this year's tournament.
Tampines overcame Indian side Mohun Bagan 3-2 in extra-time to reach this stage of the AFC Cup.
No Singaporean club has reached the AFC Cup semi-finals since 2004, when Geylang International (then known as Geylang United) and Home United were both in the final four.
If Tampines can play their A-game, there is no reason why they cannot overcome a side that is just beginning its season. 2-1 to the Stags.
Main Photo: Tampines Rovers