Stadium: Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
Kick-off: Tuesday, April 30, 16:30 IST
Perfect Home Record
Despite throwing away a two-goal lead away at Malaysia’s Selangor on matchday five, East Bengal booked their place in the round of 16 with a game to spare. But the result left them needing a point against Vietnam’s Sai Gon Xuan Thanh on match day six to win the group and get home advantage for their one-legged pre-quarter-final cash. East Bengal will be confident of getting all three points because they have been very strong at home so far in this AFC Cup campaign, having won each of their first two games. Although both were narrow victories, East Bengal were dominant from start to finish as they made the most of afternoon kickoffs on artificial surface, something which most clubs in Asia are not used to. Some of that advantage might be taken away in this game as the kick-off has been pushed back by an hour so that both Group H matches start at the same time. But East Bengal are still expected to adapt to the hot and humid conditions better and record their third straight home win of the competition.
Besides topping the group, East Bengal could also create some history if they avoid defeat in this game. The Kolkata club would become the first Indian club to end their group stage campaign unbeaten and they would also emulate their own feat of topping the group. East Bengal achieved that in 2004 and no other Indian club has matched it. Coach Trevor Morgan has a few selection problems as Mehtab Hossain and Manandeep Singh are ruled out due to suspension while Harmanjot Singh Khabra is injured. The red-and-gold brigade haven’t been in action since the 2-2 draw with Selangor and despite the absentees mentioned above, have enough quality to record maximum points. The Selangor game showed that East Bengal have the potential but still have a lot to learn in order to reach the latter stages of the AFC Cup. Having been held to a goalless draw in the reverse fixture in Vietnam, Morgan’s boys will have to be much more clinical against Sai Gon Xuan Thanh to take all three points and show that they are quickly learning from their mistakes and not repeating them.
Like East Bengal, the Vietnam club also needs a draw from this game as it would ensure their qualification to the round of 16. Anything less than a point will open the door for Malaysia’s Selangor because if they beat Tampines Rovers in Singapore, Sai Gon Xuan Thanh will miss out. Reaching the knockout stage on their debut AFC Cup campaign will be a massive achievement for Sai Gon, who were only formed in 2010. They could, of course, aim higher and look to take all three points, a result that would see them qualify as group winners and increase their chances of winning the one-off round of 16 tie. The Vietnam Cup holders started their campaign brilliantly with seven points from their first three games but have lost their way a bit in the last two games as they were well beaten by Selangor on matchday four and held at home by already-eliminated Tampines Rovers in the last match. The weather conditions will make Sai Gon’s task of getting a point even more daunting and they are also not accustomed to artificial playing surfaces.
Sai Gon will be without influential Uganda international midfielder Moses Oloya due to injury while Brazilian-born Vietnamese international Nguyen Rogerio is also unavailable due to suspension. A lot will depend on the foreign strike pairing of Christian Nsi Amougou and Emeka Ndubuisi Oguwike and the duo did cause some trouble to the East Bengal defence in the reverse fixture on matchday two. Like their opponents, the Vietnam club also haven’t been in action since their last AFC Cup game against Tampines and they will take plenty of heart from the fact that they are the only team in this group to keep a clean sheet against East Bengal. The pushing back of the kick-off time will also be encouraging as the conditions could have been a lot worse and we have already seen how Selangor and Tampines Rovers physically struggled on their visits to Kolkata. Sai Gon’s domestic form has been poor as they have registered just four points from as many matches so progression to the AFC Cup knockouts will give their squad a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.
East Bengal: DWWDD
The two wins have come in the AFC Cup and both against Tampines Rovers. East Bengal, of late, have been guilty of throwing away leads and have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight with the last shutout coming against Sai Gon in Vietnam.
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh: WLLLD
The Vietnam club are clearly out of form as their last victory came at home in the AFC Cup against Selangor. Even a draw against East Bengal will take them through and they probably would have to score as they too haven’t kept a clean sheet for five straight matches.
East Bengal: Edeh Chidi
The Nigerian has been East Bengal’s player of the season and netted two goals already in this AFC Cup campaign. Chidi failed to score against Selangor and thus would be determined get on the score sheet in this game and help the Kolkata club win the group.
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh: Christian Nsi Amougou
The Cameroon striker has scored three in this AFC Cup so far and will have to be at his best if Sai Gon want to get any result from this fixture. Amougou would be looking for a performance similar to the one he produced away at Tampines Rovers when he bagged a brace in his side’s 3-2 win.