Stadium: Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore
Kick-off: Wednesday, April 10, 17:15 IST
Three straight defeats
Singapore Cup holders Warriors FC have had a dismal start to the season in all competitions as they are in the bottom half of the S-League table and are ever closer to elimination from the AFC Cup group stage after defeats in each of their opening three games. Warriors are one of five sides in the 32-team group stage to lose their first three matches and thus, need something special in the final three games because even if they record maximum points in them, they would still have to depend on other results.
S-League’s most successful club were disappointing against Churchill Brothers in Pune last week as they were thrashed 3-0 by a near second-string side of the Indian club. Their poor season continued at the weekend as Harimau Muda B, a club comprising Malaysian youth players, beat them 2-1 in the S-League. Warriors would be determined to end their sequence of defeats in the AFC Cup in this encounter, and anything less than a win will confirm their exit from the group stage.
The name change from Singapore Armed Forces FC to Warriors FC back in January 2012 hasn’t really turned out to be a lucky one as they have only won two of their eleven matches in all competitions since then, suffering eight defeats. Their squad does have some local and foreign talent but in truth, they are not among the strongest teams of the S-League and their lack of quality has been seriously exposed in the AFC Cup.
Coach V Selvaraj still has plenty of faith in his team and expects a turnaround in the domestic league soon, but qualification to the AFC Cup round of 16 already looks beyond them, so they might approach this game against Churchill without any pressure. It would be interesting to see whether Selvaraj decides to rotate his squad, as they have a tricky away fixture against Home United on Sunday, but the former Singaporean international would still want to restore some pride and get their first win in this AFC Cup, so the foreigners and national team players like Daniel Bennett and Erwan Gunawan will have to step up.
Back in contention
Before the home match against Warriors FC on matchday three, Churchill Brothers were depleted as they had several absentees due to injury or suspension and had one eye on their potential I-League title decider against Pune FC. But Churchill pleasantly surprised everyone with a 3-0 victory, thanks to some stellar performances from youngsters like Bikramjit Singh and fringe players like Jaison Vales.
That win has brought Churchill Brothers back in contention for a place in the round of 16 but they still have a lot to do in the second half of the group stage. Because of their failure to beat Indonesia’s Semen Padang in Pune on matchday two, the Goan club will have to win at least one of their two remaining away fixtures and on paper, this is their best chance. Three points in this match will give Churchill a massive chance of reaching the knockout stage, as then they will just have to beat Hong Kong’s Kitchee in their final home encounter. But Churchill can’t take anything for granted and will have to perform much better than they did in their last away AFC Cup match, which ended in a 3-0 defeat to Kitchee.
The win over Warriors FC also raised the morale of the squad as they were beginning to lose form at the business end of the season. Churchill followed up that win over the Singapore club with a vital 2-1 victory against Pune FC, a result that puts them in the driving seat of the I-League title race. Technical director Subhash Bhowmick should be able to field a strong side as Churchill don’t play in the domestic league until next week against Dempo. But the Goan club’s preparations were disrupted a bit as India captain Sunil Chhetri and Afghanistan international Balal Arezou were initially denied visas to travel to Singapore. Eventually the duo was cleared to make the trip but they would only reach on Tuesday evening and thus, both could be doubtful for the starting eleven.
After the first two matches, the AFC Cup looked like a distraction, but the win on matchday three and confidence from a good position in the I-League should inspire Churchill Brothers to produce a good away performance and do the double over Warriors FC.
Warriors FC: LLWLL
The results in their last five matches clearly reveal Warriors’ poor start to the season, and they have won just one of their four home matches in all competitions, and that came by default as the opposing side fielded ineligible players.
Churchill Brothers: WDDWW
Churchill’s form has picked up again in recent weeks as they recorded back-to-back wins for the first time since January. Their form outside Goa must improve though, as they have won just two of their last five.
Warriors FC: Mislav Karoglan
The Croatia-born Bosnian scored his second league goal of the season on the weekend but is yet to open his account in the AFC Cup. Karoglan, like many of his teammates, was off-colour last week against Churchill and owes his club a top performance in this encounter.
Churchill Brothers: Henri Antchouet
The Gabonese striker was absent in the win over Warriors due to injury but had a great impact in the vital win over Pune FC. With Sunil and Balal having travel issues, Antchouet will have to take more responsibility and deliver the goods in this important away fixture.Published 09 Apr 2013, 09:37 IST