AFC Cup: Churchill Brothers to start round of 16 preparations from Monday
Churchill Brothers will resume training on Monday ahead of their AFC round of 16 encounter against Vietnam’s Vissai Ninh Binh on May 13. The Goan club narrowly avoided relegation from the I-League by beating local rivals Salgaocar 2-1 on April 28 and the whole squad was given a week’s break.
The Red Machines will have Egyptian midfielder Abdelhamid Shabana available again after missing out the last AFC Cup group stage game against Maldives’ New Radiant due to injury and the I-League clash with Salgaocar due to suspension. Winger Bineesh Balan, who hasn’t trained for a month, will also be assessed.
Vissai Ninh Binh will have home advantage in the one-legged round of 16 tie but the club has been hit heavily by a match-fixing scandal with nine players of the first-team squad under investigation and thus unavailable to play. As a result they pulled out from the country’s domestic league, the V-League, but were allowed to continue in the AFC Cup.
The 2013 Vietnam Cup winners topped their group and were unbeaten with 16 points. They won 4-1 away at Myanmar’s Yangon United on matchday six despite missing those nine players. But due to their withdrawal from the V-League several players have the left club.
Churchill Brothers had finished runners-up in Group E behind Indonesia’s Persipura Jayapura. They made it through to the knockouts after winning 2-1 away at Maldives’ New Radiant on matchday six.
Only four times have Indian clubs made it to the AFC Cup quarter-finals – East Bengal (2004, 2013), Mahindra United (2007) and Dempo (2008) – and Churchill Brothers have their work cut out as they have to win away from home. Mariano Dias’ side will leave for Vietnam on May 11.