AFC Cup: East Bengal host Hong Kong's Kitchee at Salt Lake Stadium
Kolkata, March 9 City football giants East Bengal will host current defending champions of the Hong Kong League Kitchee FC in a Group F encounter of the AFC Cup in what promises to be a fascinating contest at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Tuesday.
The game is a second round contest. East Bengal lost their opening fixture 1-4 to Johor Darul Ta'zim of Malaysia while Kitchee defeated Balestier Khalsa, Singapore, 3-0.
While the away team will look to exploit the defensive errors from a wobbly East Bengal backline, the local club will try and boost their defence further with experienced campaigners so that they would combine well to feed balls to the midfield.
"I saw East Bengal's last match and how they went down to Johor Darul Ta'zim. We would want to exploit the defences like the way Johor did. It's an away game so we will look to grab all three points," said Kitchee head coach Jose Francisco Molina of Spain at the pre-match press conference.
"They have a good attack line but for us all 11 players are the key. We usually play on grass but the artificial turf does not concern us."
The home side, firstly, have to contend with Spanish striker duo of Juan Belencoso and Jordi Tarres who have been quite brilliant in their domestic league. Cho Jung Min, the medio from South Korea, will be an added threat specially with his constant supply of balls inside the box.
East Bengal will be missing some key players including mid-fielders Harmanjot Singh Khabra and Lalrindika Ralte. While Khabra is out with an injury, Ralte has his national team duties to fulfil.
"We are looking to build a sturdier defence this time around and so Raju (Gaikwad) will start instead of Gurwinder (Singh). We will miss Lalrindika but Joaquim Abranches will fill in his boots," East Bengal head coach Eelco Schattorie said.
"It's good that Ranti Martins (Nigerian striker) is in form. Never in my life I have been defensive, we would be organised going forward and hopefully we can pull off an upset against a better team," added Schattorie.
Though Ralte's miss will be a huge blow, the home team would rely on their Nigerian forward duo of Martins and Dudu Omagbeni and would hope the pace of Abranches and Shylo Malsawmtluanga in midfield can breach the Kitchee defence.
Out of seven appearances in the AFC Cup, East Bengal have made it through to the semi-finals only once in 2013. Kitchee too were there last year.
Though East Bengal have a dismal record against Hong Kong clubs, they would still be confident of doing well against a formidable opposition as Kitchee were beaten by Pune FC last time they were here in 2014.