Stadium: Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
Kick-off: Tuesday, April 9, 15:15 IST
The arrest of three Lebanese referees before East Bengal’s away AFC Cup match against Singapore’s Tampines Rovers might have overshadowed the Kolkata club’s brilliant performance in the 4-2 win, but the result put them in pole position to qualify for the round of 16 as Group H winners. East Bengal have the chance to consolidate their position by winning this reverse fixture at home and if Vietnam’s Sai Gon Xuan Thanh avoid defeat against Malaysia’s Selangor in the other Group H fixture, the Kolkata club would book their place in the knockout stage for the first time since 2004 with two games to spare. Coach Trevor Morgan’s future at the club might be in doubt as he is reportedly seeking a job in Singapore or Australia so that he can spend more time with his family, but the English coach remains determined to take East Bengal as far as possible in this tournament after two flop campaigns which produced three draws and nine defeats in 12 matches.
Following the win in Singapore, Morgan had admitted that the afternoon kickoff on the artificial pitch at the Salt Lake Stadium will give his side an advantage and thus East Bengal must make the most of it and do the double over the Singapore champions. Unlike previous matches, the red-and-gold brigade have had a nice breather before this AFC Cup fixture as they weren’t in I-League action at the weekend and their next domestic match is not until Sunday, so Morgan and his team can focus all their energies on this encounter. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu has once again been left out of the 18-man match squad while defender Arnab Mondal still hasn’t fully recovered from his injury and Ishfaq Ahmed serves the last of his four-match ban in the AFC Cup. East Bengal were highly impressive in their previous home game against Malaysia’s Selangor but were very wasteful and only won 1-0. The Kolkata giants have to be more clinical this time as they cannot afford to drop points and let go the initiative that they have after a good start in the first three matches. Once again, the combination of Edeh Chidi and Andrew Barisic upfront could make the difference for East Bengal.
The two Singapore representatives have fared very poorly so far in the AFC Cup as, halfway through the campaign, neither Warriors FC nor Tampines Rovers have recorded any wins and are in a do-or-die situation in their last three matches. Warriors FC are not among the stronger teams of the S-League, so it’s not much of a surprise to see them struggle but the performances of S-League holders and current league leaders Tampines Rovers have been shockingly dismal, especially at home. The Stags have lost both of their home matches, conceding seven goals, and now need something special against East Bengal to revive their hopes of reaching the round of 16. Tampines are not accustomed to afternoon kickoffs and might find it difficult to get going at Salt Lake Stadium’s artificial turf as it is not in a great shape following the damage that was done by the IPL opening ceremony. But the S-League team will take heart from their attacking display in the 3-3 draw at Malaysia’s Selangor on matchday two and aim to defend better.
Tampines Rovers will be delighted to welcome back their skipper and midfield general Fahrudin Mustafic from suspension but will be missing left-sided midfielder Ismadi Mukhtar, who recently had a road accident. In truth, the Singapore club were very much in the game against East Bengal and could have easily got a point at least, had star striker Khairul Amri been a bit more clinical. But defensively, Tampines were poor and had no answer to the quick counter attacks of East Bengal in the second half. Coach Nenad Bacina would at least be happy that his team had a full week to prepare for this clash as his players are set to suffer a lot, physically, due to the hot and humid conditions of Kolkata. It would be interesting to see whether 42-year-old Singapore legend Aleksandar Duric gets a start as his height and presence gave some problems to the East Bengal backline in the latter stages of last week’s encounter. Being in a must-win situation often brings out the best in some players and coach Bacina would be hoping for that as Tampines look to avoid a group stage elimination for the second straight edition.
East Bengal: WLDDW
The 4-2 victory ended East Bengal’s three-match winless streak but they haven’t won back-to-back AFC Cup games since 2008 and were held to a 1-1 draw when they last faced Singapore opposition in Kolkata in 2004.
Tampines Rovers: WWWWL
The defeat to East Bengal ended the Singapore club’s four-match winning streak and five-game unbeaten run. Tampines Rovers haven’t suffered back-to-back defeats for more than a year now.
East Bengal: Uga Okpara
The East Bengal defence at times looked in trouble in Singapore and thus the Nigerian must be at his best as Tampines are likely to be even more adventurous in this game. Okpara will once again have to lead the backline and aim for East Bengal’s third clean sheet in four AFC Cup matches.
Tampines Rovers: Fahrudin Mustafic
The Bosnian-born Singapore international was badly missed in the middle of the park last week as Tampines Rovers were completely exposed by East Bengal’s fast counter attacks. Mustafic will have to give a strong performance if the S-League holders want to take maximum points from this encounter.