Match Preview: East Bengal vs Selangor FA – AFC Cup
Stadium: Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
Kick-off: Wednesday, February 27, 15:00 IST
East Bengal will be appearing for a record-equalling seventh time in the AFC Cup and fourth straight edition but the red-and-gold brigade haven’t won a match since 2008 with their last three campaigns ending without a victory. The winless streak stands at 21 matches and East Bengal fans will be eager to end this run but it remains to be seen how seriously Trevor Morgan takes this competition as in the last two seasons he has been under pressure from the officials to win the local league and the IFA Shield. However, with the I-League having a one-month break, Morgan could be tempted to field a full strength side and make a winning start to their campaign.
Midfielder Ishfaq Ahmed, who is serving the four match-ban which he received last year while playing for Salgaocar, and the injured defensive duo of Arnab Mondal and Gurwidner Singh are unavailable but Morgan has everybody else fully fit. He will have a welcome headache of picking two out of three in-form strikers including Baljit Sahni who scored a hattrick in the last game against Mohammedan Sporting. Unlike in the I-League, the English coach also has the option of fielding all four foreigners, so we could even see the strike pairing of the club’s top scorer Edeh Chidi and winter signing Andrew Barisic. Having already won the Federation Cup, East Bengal could still win three more domestic trophies but their fans would also be craving for a good run in the AFC Cup and a home win on matchday one will certainly set them on their way for the same.
Match Fixing Cloud
Selangor FA looks a true professional outfit as they reached Kolkata four days before the game and have also brought a full strength squad. But their preparations received a blow late on Tuesday evening when news broke that their influential Lebanese international Ramez Dayoub was suspended for life for his involvement in a match fixing scandal. The allegation against Dayoub is involving matches for the Lebanese national team and until late Tuesday evening he remained eligible for the game, but the news would certainly be a negative influence on the whole squad and it remains to be seen how they respond on the pitch.
The Malaysian club qualified for the AFC Cup despite finishing third in the league as the runner-up was a team from Singapore. But they do have a recent track record in the competition, reaching the quarter-finals in 2006. Selangor are Malaysia’s most successful team and like East Bengal, wear red-and-yellow in their home matches. They have quality Malaysian players and the addition of Liberian striker Francis Doe and Slovakians Michael Kubala and Peter Chrappan has made them an even stronger team than last year. This is actually their second meeting against East Bengal as the teams clashed in the 1972 IFA Shield semi-final with the Kolkata club winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Sambhu Moitra. Selangor will be aiming to both avenge that defeat and also ensure that the headlines are made for their football and not Dayoub’s match fixing allegation.
East Bengal: DWWWW
East Bengal have won their last four matches but all of them came in Calcutta Football League (CFL). The red-and-gold brigade will be aware about the gulf in class between the CFL and AFC Cup but on a positive note, some players have regained their form against weaker opposition and could bring that confidence in this game.
Selangor FA: WLWLD
Selangor have been inconsistent in recent weeks but are second in the league only due to goal difference after eight rounds. Their away form has been particularly poor as they have managed just one win in five matches. However, unlike the domestic league, they will be able to use all four foreigners and that could prove to be decisive.
East Bengal: Edeh Chidi
The Nigerian striker was part of the Dempo squad that reached the AFC Cup semi-finals in 2008 and has really lifted his game in the new year. Chidi will be aiming to show that form in the AFC Cup also and bring East Bengal’s first win in the competition in almost five years.
Selangor FA: Francis Doe
The 27-year-old Liberian striker earned a move to Selangor after finishing joint-top scorer in the Malaysian Super League for Terengganu FA last season. Doe has the experience of playing in the MLS also and would be eager to make a prolific start in the AFC Cup.