2018-19 Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions Bengaluru FC will take on Tribhuvan Army FC in their 2021 AFC Cup Preliminary Round 2 clash at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim (Goa) on Wednesday. The club from Nepal beat Sri Lanka Police SC 5-1 in their Round 1 clash last week to set up a date with the Sunil Chhetri-led team.
Bengaluru FC endured a tough 2020-21 Hero ISL campaign as they finished seventh on the league table. This was the first time that the Blues were unable to qualify for the semi-finals since joining the league in the 2017-18 season. After parting ways with Carles Cuadrat in January, the Blues relied on the expertise of interim head coach Naushad Moosa till the end of their campaign, even though Marco Pezzaiuoli’s appointment as new head coach was finalised in February. Which means, 52-year-old Pezzaiuoli will oversee the proceedings for the Blues for the first time since joining the club.
Bengaluru FC last played against Jamshedpur FC, a match that ended in a 3-2 loss. In the 2020-21 Hero ISL, the Blues won just five matches, lost eight and drew seven of their 20 matches. They conceded 28 goals (their worse performance till now in a single season), two more than they scored (26). Bengaluru FC’s priority in Wednesday’s game will be to put their disappointing performance in Hero ISL 2020-21 behind them and start afresh.
Ahead of the continental competition, the club have let go of Fran Gonzalez and brought in Gabonese defender Yrondu Musavu-King. He will join Juanan, Cleiton Silva and Erik Paartalu as the four foreigners in the squad. The 29-member squad also has five players from the club’s reserve side as they begin preparations with an eye to the future. In addition to these youngsters, the side also features regulars like Ashique Kuruniyan, Rahul Bheke, Suresh Wangjam, Harmanjot Khabra and Udanta Singh, among others.
Meanwhile, Tribhuvan Army FC will hope for their dream run to continue after their comprehensive win over Sri Lanka Police SC. Nawayug Shrestha scored a brace, while Santosh Tamang, Tanka Basnet and Sudil Rai scored a goal each to complete their commanding performance. The club represents the Nepal Army in the Martyr’s Memorial 'A' Division League and do not have any foreigners in their squad.
Also known as the Nepal Army Club, the Kathmandu-based team have a very strong attack, with Nepal international forwards Bharat Khawas and Nawayug in their roster. Khawas has been named the best forward in the Nepalese top-flight league for the last two seasons, while Nawayug scored six goals for the Nepal Army Club in the 2019-20 season as the side finished second on the league table.
It is the first appearance in nearly a decade for a Nepalese club in the continental competition, so there will be no dearth of motivation among head coach Nabin Neupane’s men.
The two teams will fight for a place in the playoff tie, which will be played against the winner of the game between Bangladesh’s Abahani Dhaka and Maldives’ Club Eagles. The team that wins the play-off will join 2020-21 Hero ISL runners-up join ATK Mohun Bagan, Bangladesh's Bashundhara Kings, and Maldivian club Maziya Sports & Recreation in Group D (South Zone) of AFC Cup 2021.
Bengaluru FC Squad:
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Lara Sharma, Sharon Padattil
Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Pratik Chaudhari, Juanan, Wungngayam Muirang, Ajith Kumar, Ashique Kuruniyan, Joe Zoherliana, Parag Shrivas, Yrondu Musavu-King, Biswa Darjee
Midfielders: Erik Paartalu, Suresh Wangjam, Harmanjot Khabra, Namgyal Bhutia, Emanuel Lalchhanchuaha, Damaitphang Lyngdoh, Muhammad Inayath
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Edmund Lalrindika, Udanta Singh, Cleiton Silva, Leon Augustine, Naorem Roshan Singh, Sivasakthi Narayanan, Akashdeep Singh
Kick-off: 7:30 PM (IST)
Live broadcast: On Bengaluru FC’s official YouTube Channel