Dushanbe, Tajikistan: Albert Roca said his side would forget for a while that they are a step away from a second consecutive AFC Cup final and focus on getting one half of the job done when Bengaluru FC take on FC Istiklol in the first leg of the zonal final at the Hisor Central Stadium, in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, on Wednesday.
The Blues set up the clash with the runners-up of the 2015 edition of the tournament after staving off a fight form North Korean side 4.25 SC to emerge 3-0 winners on aggregate. “We know how close we are to a shot at the final but we’ve kept that out of our thoughts for the moment. Over the next two games, it’s only Istiklol that we are concerned about.”
However, the task at hand, won’t be an easy one given the Tajik’s side recent run of form, and Roca wants his team to be aware of the threat they pose, “It’s going to be tough to get a good result against a team that has played a final before, but we are motivated to give our best. They are more matured than us, given they have just finished the league as champions.”
For the record, FC Istiklol come into the game on the back of an undefeated AFC Cup campaign so far with six wins and two draws. Moreover, their unbeaten streak isn’t just limited to the continental stage, as they are also unbeaten in 24 competitive games in the 2017 season so far. Thirteen of their nineteen wins during this period have come in the Tajik League where they clinched the 2017 title in 16 games with five rounds to play.
In what will be more than just a slight advantage for the Blues, Istiklol will be without as many as three starters in midfielders David Mawutor (Ghana), Amirbek Juraboev and Ukrainian defender Artem Baranovskyi, all of whom miss the game with suspensions. However Roca said his side wouldn’t be making much of it given the depth in quality the hosts possesses. “They have players who can change the direction of a game in minutes and the key for us would be stay focused through the 90 minutes without taking the tie for granted.”
The Spaniard has a complete squad to choose from and while he rolled out an unchanged starting eleven over two legs against 4.25 SC, Roca could mull a few changes against the Tajik side. The Bengaluru defence who did well to keep two clean sheets against 4.25 SC will have their task cut out against a free-scoring Istiklol side who made it to the zonal final after a 5-1 aggregate result over Philippines side Ceres Negros.
The game kicks off under floodlights at 7.00 PM local time in Dushanbe (7.30 PM IST) and will be streamed live on AFC’s Media Channels (Facebook and YouTube).