Venue: Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune
Kickoff: Wednesday, February 26 2014, 18:30 IST
Back On Track
Pune FC revived their I-League title challenge with a morale-boosting 2-0 victory over Mohammedan Sporting last week. The result also ended a dismal 11-game winless streak in all competitions and it should give their young squad confidence ahead of their first-ever AFC Cup fixture. Mike Snoei’s side actually performed quite well in the 1-1 draw with Sporting Clube and then further improved against Mohammedan Sporting to take maximum points. They are missing a few key players like club captain Anas Edathodika and India midfielder Arata Izumi but the youngsters have made the most of their opportunities with at least four club academy graduates in the starting eleven in their last two I-League matches.
The AFC Cup will be a massive step up of course with the 3-0 defeat to Vietnam’s Hanoi T&T in the Champions League qualifying playoff being a good reminder. But despite being new to this competition, Pune have every intention of reaching the round of 16 and coach Snoei stressed on the importance of doing well in the home matches at the pre-match press conference. On paper, Myanmar’s Nay Pyi Taw FC may be Pune’s weakest opponent of Group H but the Red Lizards shouldn’t take anything for granted because in this competition every mistake gets punished. The three experienced foreigners will have to take extra responsibility and guide the youngsters. As long as Pune play their natural game without fear, there is every chance of making a winning start.
Like Pune, Nay Pyi Taw FC are also making their debut in the Asia’s Europa League but this is also their very first game at continental level. While it took Pune only seven years since their formation to qualify for an Asian competition, Nay Pyi Taw FC achieved it within four. It’s a remarkable achievement from them and they would surely look to relish the matches like Pune besides trying to get the results to reach the knockouts. Their domestic season only started earlier this month with three new foreigners in the squad and each of them to their credit have started well in the Myanmar National League (MNL). However they have had to do a lot of travelling and also played their last domestic match on Friday.
Nay Pyi Taw FC coach Myo Hlaing Win has plenty of respect for Pune, referring to them as ‘one of the toughest teams in the group’. The Myanmar club have done their homework about Pune through videos on the internet but will also have full confidence in imposing their own style. Coach Win would be hoping that his players can capitalise on being the slight underdogs as they don’t have home advantage. Any positive result for Nay Pyi Taw FC will strengthen their belief of doing well in the rest of the group stage. Unlike Pune, they have a fully fit squad and are expected to have all four foreigners available.
Pune FC: LLLDW
Pune have got their self-belief back at a crucial point of the season as the long winless streak did dent their confidence. Their home form in the I-League has been solid with just one defeat in eight matches and five clean sheets.
Nay Pyi Taw FC: LLWWW
They lost their league opener against KBZ but followed it up with three straight victories. Nay Pyi Taw lost only four times in the MNL last season and two of those defeats came against eventual champions Yangon United, who also reached the 2013 AFC Cup round of 16.
Mike Snoei is likely to stick to the same eleven that outclassed Mohammedan Sporting 2-0 last Wednesday. Former Bolton and Levante player Riga Mustapha could get a free role again with Gabriel Fernandes and Anthony D’Souza on the two wings. 20-year-old striker Thongkhosiem Haokip, who is among the standbys for India’s friendly against Bangladesh next week, should start upfront.
Possible XI: Amrinder Singh; Srikantha Ramu, Salam Ranjan Singh, Calum Angus, Zohmingliana Ralte; Gabriel Fernandes, Dhanpal Ganesh, Douhou Pierre, Anthony D’Souza; Riga Mustapha; Thongkhosiem Haokip
Nay Pyi Taw FC
Myo Hlaing Win, who is a former Myanmar international, has a fully fit squad to choose from. All four foreigners are likely to start with Argentinean playmaker Delgado Carlos Alberto expected to operate just behind lone striker Michele Di Piedi.
Possible XI: Van Lar Hrual; Nay Zaw Aung Ni, Latt Ko Ko Aye, Obadin Aikhena, Maung Maung Aung; Aye San, Jung Yoon Sik, Tin Zaw Moe, Aung Kyaw Naing; Delgado Carlos Alberto; Michele Di Piedi
Pune FC – Douhou Pierre
The Ivorian lost his form during the Federation Cup but was influential in the last two I-League fixtures again. Douhou will have to be at his very best especially in the absence of Arata and his battle with South Korean Jung Yoon Sik in midfield could be decisive.
Nay Pyi Taw FC – Michele Di Piedi
The former Sheffield Wednesday and APOEL Nicosia striker has made an instant impact in the MNL, having scored in his first three games. Di Piedi is Nay Pyi Taw’s biggest goal threat and he will be looking forward to play against Pune’s inexperienced backline.Published 25 Feb 2014, 20:01 IST