AFC Cup: East Bengal Vs Chonburi FC Preview
Kolkata giants East Bengal will take on Chonburi FC of Thailand today in their first match of their AFC Cup campaign in the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. East Bengal qualified for the AFC Cup being the Federation Cup champion last year. The team, currently coached by Trevor Morgan, qualified for the AFC Cup last year too, where their poor performance led to defeat in all the matches they faced. However, they had been in tremendous form in all the tournaments this season till recently and will hope to do better this time.
Chonburi FC, who had earlier qualified for the AFC Cup in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010, is currently placed third in the Thai Premier League. They started their campaign confidently defeating Thai Port 2-0 but were held to a 2-2 draw by Osostopa in the next match.
East Bengal had a blistering start to the season winning all the matches they played until being held by Chirag United in the Federation Cup and the Kolkata League. However, they remained unbeaten winning Federation Cup and Kolkata League. Their I-League campaign started on a similar note winning all their matches until being held to a 2-2 draw by Mumbai FC in January. After that, they have struggled with their form and were held to draw by Chirag United, Churchil Brothers, Mohun Bagan and Indian Arrows. Their unbeaten run came to an end with a 1-0 loss to ONGC recently. Sudden loss of points led to them being removed from the top of the league by Salgaocar. The real point to worry for the red and gold brigade is the fact that they have not won in their last four matches which include their only loss of the season.
East Bengal team depends mainly on the three foreigners in the team, Tolgay Ozbey, Penn Orji and Uga Okpara and a host of Indian talents like Mehtab and Robin Singh. Okpara’s exceptional defending has saved the team a lot of times and they will hope him to take the lead in defending again after missing the last two matches. Australian Tolgay Ozbey’s great form in front of opponent goal also will raise the confidence of the Kolkata side.
Chonburi FC was formed by a college outfit of the Assumption College, Sriracha. They qualified for the Thai Premier League in 2002 and separated from Sannibat Samutprakan FC to call themselves Chonburi FC and gave them the new nickname “the Sharks”. The team boasts of six players from the Thai national team and four foreigners from Brazil, Serbia, Cameroon and Japan. However, coach Withaya Laohakul claimed he might field only one of them as he feels the local players from his team are better than the foreigners. Serbian defender Darko Rakocevic is expected to start in their 4-3-2-1 formation with captain Pipob On-Mo being the single striker. In an interesting link between the two teams Thai midfielder Thersdak Chaiman played for BEC Tero Sasana in the ASEAN Cup final in 2003 where East Bengal won.
I was fortunate enough to see Chonburi play last weekend. They are a very good footballing side who keep the ball on the ground and are very patient in possession.
They play a system that our players will not have come up against too often, so it will be a good test for us.
The stadium, playing surface and facilities at Chonburi would be the envy of many clubs throughout the world.
In the I-League and AFC Cup we will always endeavour to put out our best eleven. I don’t like to change the team too much or alter our formation as the players are comfortable in our system.
The artificial turf will be a big worry for the players. Back home we have trained on a similar surface but a competitive match on an artificial turf will be big test for us.
I have seen East Bengal’s videos and must admit they are a very good side. Australian striker Tolgay, in particular, will pose a serious challenge to us.
We have our own concerns going into this match. The artificial turf and the strength of our opponents are only a few of them. But we are here to compete and take three points out of this match.
Both sides being almost unknown to each other except for a few videos and Morgan’s watching a game, it is expected to be an interesting affair. It is expected that the away team will try to play safe with a hope for a valuable away point. East Bengal will hope for a first win in AFC Cup after their dismal show last year. The Indian side will get try to emulate the other team form the country, Dempo, who won 2-1 against Al Tital in Pune in their AFC Cup tie last afternoon. In another tie of Group H South China of Hong Kong will host Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia. East Bengal will face Persipura Jayapura in their next AFC Cup match in Indonesia on 16th March.