Stadium: Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune
Kick-off: Tuesday, April 2, 15:00 IST
Churchill’s depleted squad
In truth, the AFC Cup is a distraction for I-League leaders Churchill Brothers, as they don’t really have the strength in depth in their squad to be competitive in both tournaments. Following the comprehensive 3-0 defeat to Kitchee on matchday one, Churchill managed a 2-2 draw with Indonesia’s Semen Padang on matchday two to open their account in the competition. They need something special in the last four games to stand any chance of qualifying for the round of 16; so the double header against the group’s bottom-side Warriors FC, Singapore, possibly gives some hope. Unfortunately, the Goan club will be without six first team members, including three of their four foreigners and thus would be playing for pride rather than points. Influential Brazilian playmaker Beto and Gabon striker Henri Antchouet are ruled out due to injuries, while Senegalese defender Lamine Tamba is suspended following two bookings. India international Lenny Rodrigues , wide midfielder Steven Dias and the highly-talented Binessh Balan are also unavailable due to knocks. It would be fair to say that Churchill are down to bare bones ahead of their third AFC Cup fixture.
Churchill Brothers technical director Subhash Bhowmick would at least be happy that his team had their last match six days earlier and thus have had some time to switch off from the pressure of the I-League title race and prepare for this game. But the ASEAN Cup-winning coach is unlikely to take too many risks and will have one eye on Churchill’s next I-League game against fellow title challengers Pune FC on Friday. He is likely to pair Sunil Chhetri and Afghanistan international striker Balal Arezou upfront, as he doesn’t have too many other options, with the midfield in particular lacking experience and quality. Although it’s understandable for Churchill to take the AFC Cup lightly, a heavy defeat could affect the morale of their squad ahead of the title run-in, while a win would be a nice confidence booster for the rest of the I-League campaign, and may even bring them back in contention for the knock-out stages. However, the priority for Bhowmick will be to avoid further injuries and keep his squad fresh for their next I-League encounter.
Warrior FC’s poor start
It has been a disappointing AFC Cup campaign so far for Singapore clubs as S-League holders Tampines Rovers have managed just one point in two matches in Group H while Warriors FC occupy the last place in Group E after back-to-back defeats against Semen Padang and Kitchee. It’s the defeat to Kitchee that will hurt Warriors the most, as they were leading 2-0 at half-time but completely collapsed in the second period in front of their home fans and lost 4-2. Although it’s early days in the S-League, Warriors don’t look like challenging for the title as they are currently eighth in the 12-team table with only seven points from six games. Under the name of Singapore Armed Forces FC, the Warriors reached the quarter-finals of the 2007 and 2008 editions of the AFC Cup, but now it looks difficult for them to even go past the group stage this time; however, wins against Churchill on matchday three and four could change that.
Four players in Warriors’ travelling squad were involved in Singapore’s last international match, including club captain and Singapore’s most capped player Daniel Bennett, who was born in England. The Singapore Cup holders, however, have only come with three foreigners as former Japanese World Cupper Kazuyuki Toda is unavailable. The foreigners who have made the trip to Pune are former Bosnia & Herzegovina U-21 international striker Mislav Karoglan, Croatian defender Marin Vidosevic, and Japanese attacking midfielder Tatsuro Inui, who has scored in both of Warriors’ AFC Cup games so far. Head coach V Selvaraj still believes his team can progress to the next round and, unlike Churchill Brothers, don’t have a title race to deal with domestically. Thus, Warriors will put all their energy on this game and would be looking to make the most of Churchill’s injury problems. Despite this being an away game, Warriors will fancy their chances of getting all three points, and anything less could diminish their chances of reaching the round of 16.
Churchill Brothers: LDWDD
Churchill’s form in the second half of the season has been very average, and that is evident in their recent form also, as they have managed just one win in the last six matches and haven’t won outside Goa since January, when they thrashed title contenders East Bengal 3-0.
Warriors FC: LWLLW
Since being renamed as Warriors FC, the Singapore club hasn’t enjoyed much success on the pitch with just two wins in nine matches in all competitions this season, and one of those two victories came in the last game against Singapore’s FA developmental side, Young Lions.
Churchill Brothers: Sunil Chhetri
With Beto and Antchouet absent, there will be a lot more responsibility on the Indian captain to deliver the goods upfront. Sunil will be aiming to successfully combine with Balal Arezou and get on the score-sheet like he did against Semen Padang in the last AFC Cup game.
Warriors FC: Erwan Gunawan
Despite the presence of some big name foreigners, Gunawan is Warriors’ in-form player at present, with a goal against Kitchee SC on matchday two and a brace against Young Lions in the last S-League game. The 26-year-old striker will be aiming for another top performance in Pune.Published 01 Apr 2013, 09:30 IST