Stadium: Haji Agus Salim Stadium, Padang, Indonesia
Kick-off: Wednesday, May 1, 14:00 IST
After the group stage draw, Semen Padang were possibly second favourites to progress from Group E after Hong Kong’s star-studded Kitchee outfit. But three straight wins between matchday three and five has seen the Indonesian club win the group with a game to spare. Padang had actually qualified for the knockout stage after matchday four and have one of the best records of the entire group stage. They are one of four teams among the 32 who were still unbeaten after five matchdays and would fancy their chances of recording maximum points in their final group game as well. In the reverse fixture, Semen Padang managed a 2-2 draw with Churchill Brothers despite the absence of all three of their foreigners, and the Indonesian league holders are overwhelming favourites to win at home against the I-League leaders, as the Goan club have left out most of their team regulars for this away match.
Semen Padang are not only doing well in the AFC Cup but are also flying high in their domestic league, which interestingly is referred to as IPL (Indonesian Premier League), as they lead the 16-team table with 16 points from their first six matches. Liberian striker Edward Junior Wilson has been a key figure of course, but the local players have also played an important role, with Indonesian international Muhammad Nur Iskandar in particular being very impressive with three goals already. After the solid start in the first two games where they recorded four points, Semen Padang took control of the group by doing the double over Kitchee. Just like Churchill, the Indonesian outfit didn’t have any domestic action at the weekend but coach Jafri Sastra could be tempted to rest a few regulars for Saturday’s IPL clash against PSM, as this match is undoubtedly a dead rubber. Whatever team Padang put out, they will be expected to win.
While Padang have confirmed their entry into the last 16 as group toppers, Churchill Brothers have already been eliminated and could finish bottom of the group if they fail to win this game and Singapore’s Warriors FC beat Kitchee in Hong Kong. The I-League champions-elect were very much in contention after the first three matchdays as they had four points but successive defeats to Warriors and Kitchee ended their knockout hopes. Technical director Subhash Bhowmick had been playing down the importance of the AFC Cup throughout the group stage and it seemed that the players also gave up hope too early. It does make sense however, as Churchill Brothers are on the brink of the I-League title and quite clearly they didn’t have the squad to compete in both competitions, like East Bengal. So while Wednesday’s match in Indonesia will end their AFC Cup campaign for this season, they should be back next year as I-League champions.
Churchill have travelled to Indonesia with a second-string squad for this inconsequential tie, as they will be without a host of first-team members like Beto, Sunil Chhetri, Lamine Tamba, Henri Antchouet, Denzil Franco, Lenny Rodrigues, and Dharmaraj Ravanan. The match thus provides the chance for some fringe players like Jaison Vales and Bineesh Balan to stake a claim for a place in the first team, while youngsters like Asley Fernandes and Gurtej Singh would relish the opportunity to start in an AFC Cup away match. Everything about this match suggests that it could be played at a friendly pace, but Churchill Brothers should approach it professionally and avoid any sort of embarrassment, even if they lose. It would be unfair to expect any sort of a result from Churchill Brothers in this game but India’s would-be champions would surely want to end their second-ever AFC Cup campaign with a fight.
Semen Padang: WWWWW
The Indonesian champions are undoubtedly in red hot form and in fact are unbeaten in eleven matches in all competitions so far this season. They have been totally invincible at home, winning each of their six matches, scoring 18 and conceding only thrice.
Churchill Brothers: WLDWL
Churchill Brothers have endured some indifferent form lately, and both of those defeats in the last five games have come in the AFC Cup. The Goan club have lost both of their previous two away matches in this AFC Cup and have also failed to score in both.
Semen Padang: Edward Junior Wilson
The Liberian is among the top scorers of the 2013 AFC Cup group stage with six goals in four matches and has been instrumental in his club’s near-perfect campaign so far. He was denied visa for the reverse fixture in Pune and thus will be eager to play and score against Churchill this time.
Churchill Brothers: Balal Arezou
The Afghan international striker is yet to open his account for Churchill Brothers in any competition. A major reason behind it is the fact that he has been played on the wings, but in this game he is likely to start upfront and thus has a great opportunity to show his true qualities.