Venue: Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune
Kickoff: Tuesday, April 1 2014, 19:00 IST
Besides the remarkable comeback in the away game against Hong Kong’s Kitchee on matchday two, Pune’s debut AFC Cup campaign has been disappointing so far as they are rock bottom of Group H and thus this matchday four fixture has become a must-win. It was always going to be difficult for their young squad to adapt immediately to the AFC Cup level but their performances could and should have been better in two of their three matches. The defeat to Tampines Rovers in the last matchday surprised many in Singapore as well because Tampines were not at their best but Pune’s inexperience proved to be costly.
Mathematically Pune are still in contention for the I-League title but realistically the Red Lizards have very little chance now as besides winning their remaining four games they must also depend on results of three other teams. On the other hand Pune’s AFC Cup fate is very much in their hands as two of their final three games are at home. Mike Snoei’s side certainly had their moments in the away clash two weeks ago and must have learned from their mistakes there. Home advantage is often decisive in continental matches and Pune would be determined to capitalise on that and keep their round of 16 hopes alive.
Back on track
After suffering heavy defeats on the opening two matchdays, the Singapore champions got their AFC Cup campaign back on track by beating Pune 3-1 at home two weeks ago. The best part about the victory was the fact that they came from behind despite being under plenty of pressure. Tampines have been showing that same resilience in the S-League also as they recorded comeback wins in the last two fixtures. In fact they overturned a two-goal deficit to beat Harimau Muda II 3-2 last Thursday. They are the only team with a perfect record in the S-League and thus are on course for a fourth straight domestic title.
However Tampines are eager to avoid a third-straight group stage exit from the AFC Cup and thus they need to do the double over Pune. The challenge for the Stags will be to adapt to the hot and humid conditions and the travelling has also been demanding. Fellow S-League outfit Home United just couldn’t cope with the weather in Goa against Churchill Brothers but Tampines will at least be glad that the kickoff is in the evening. Singapore clubs have been struggling in the AFC Cup in recent seasons so there is extra responsibility on the S-League holders to record maximum points here and take a big step towards the knockouts.
Pune FC: DDLLD
Pune have recorded just one win in 13 matches in this calendar year and have kept just two clean sheets in that period. They have conceded at least two goals in each of their four continental games but have opened the scoring in two of their three AFC Cup fixtures.
Tampines Rovers FC: LWWWW
Tampines have managed a draw and a defeat in their two visits to India and on both occasions it was in Kolkata. The Singapore outfit have won just two of their last 16 AFC Cup games and have failed to win their last five away fixtures in this tournament.
After a difficult schedule of four away games in 16 days, Pune finally have a home match again. Despite the intense travelling in the last two weeks, Snoei is unlikely to make too many changes and has promised to go for experience in this must-win encounter. Central defender Anas Edathodika is available again after missing out the I-League game against Bengaluru FC due to suspension.
Possible XI: Amrinder Singh; Zohmingliana Ralte, Anas Edathodika, Calum Angus, Gurjinder Kumar; Gabriel Fernandes, Mumtaz Akhtar, Douhou Pierre, Anthony D’Souza; Riga Mustapha; Mirjan Pavlovic
Tampines Rovers FC
By contrast this is Tampines’ first fixture outside Singapore for almost three weeks. Coach Salim Moin has a much bigger squad to choose from including a foreigner who only plays in the S-League. It would be interesting to see if Moin opts for a defensive team because he has made it clear at the pre-match press conference that even a draw will be a good result for his side.
Possible XI: Hyrulnizam Juma’at; Anaz Hadee, Shariff Allapitchay, Norihiro Kawakami, Shaiful Esah; Jamil Ali, Fahrudin Mustafic, Shahdan Sulaiman, Luis Closa; Aleksandar Duric, Miljan Mrdakovic
Pune FC – Mirjan Pavlovic
The Croatian-Australian has made Pune more dangerous going forward since joining the club earlier this month but he would be aiming to be more prolific in front of goal as he has been wasteful at times both in the I-League and AFC Cup.
Tampines Rovers FC – Miljan Mrdakovic
The Serbian has scored nine goals in as many games in all competitions including a brace against Pune on matchday three. Mrdakovic would be looking to continue his great goal scoring form and inspire Tampines to an away victory.Published 31 Mar 2014, 18:30 IST