Stadium: Thong Nhat Stadium, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Kick-off: Wednesday, March 13, 17:00 IST
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh made a fantastic start to their maiden AFC Cup campaign by winning 3-2 away at Singapore’s Tampines Rovers on matchday one. So three points in this home fixture will give the Vietnam Cup holders early control of Group H and boost their hopes of reaching the knockout stage. Sai Gon faced East Bengal in October 2011 in the BTV Cup, an invitational tournament hosted by Vietnam club Becamex Binh Duong. Sai Gon needed a 90th minute goal to win that game 1-0, and they would happily settle for a similar result, even though on paper they are capable of comprehensively beating East Bengal. Vietnam’s V-League only started on March 2 and Sai Gon, who won their opening game against Becamex Binh Duong 1-0, were not in action last weekend and thus have had a few extra days to prepare for this match.
The club was only founded in 2010, but has come up the Vietnam football ladder rapidly in the last three years. However, they have had some financial problems, which has seen them lose one of their best players from last season in Huynh Kesley Alves, a Brazilian-born Vietnam striker. But Sai Gon have managed to retain midfielder Nguyen Rogerio, who is another Brazilian-born Vietnam international and last season’s club top scorer Christian Nsi Amougou, and have signed Nigerian midfielder Suleiman Abdullahi. They also have a couple of current Vietnam internationals, while the presence of former Vietnam skipper and current club captain Phan Van Tai Em also lends valuable experience to their squad. Sai Gon’s quality on paper and home advantage makes them clear favourites to take all three points, so anything less will be a disappointment.
The 1-0 win over Selangor FA on matchday one ended East Bengal’s 21-match winless run in the AFC Cup, a run stretching back to 2008. East Bengal must at least avoid defeat to end another unwanted streak in the continental competition. The red-and-gold brigade have lost each of their last ten away matches, with the 2-0 win at Jordan’s Al Wehdat in 2008 being the last time that they avoided a loss on their travels in the AFC Cup. Trevor Morgan has suffered six of those ten consecutive defeats, so he would be desperate to end that sequence, and has been consulting with good friend Steve Darby, who is also a former Mohun Bagan coach, to get an idea about their Vietnamese opposition. The I-League remains Morgan’s priority, but a positive result in this match could open up a chance to progress further in the AFC Cup.
East Bengal stormed into the IFA Shield semi-finals with a hundred percent record in the group stage, and the news that they are among the top 450 clubs in the world according to IFFHS (International Federation of Football History & Statistics) enhanced the positive atmosphere that is at the club currently. Selangor coach Irfan Bakti Abu Salim claimed that Lalrindika Ralte, who scored the winner, and skipper Sanju Pradhan, who turned 24 on Monday, ‘killed his team’ and Morgan would be looking for similar performances from not only those two but other key players also. The English coach has been rotating his squad in the IFA Shield to keep his players fresh for the AFC Cup, and besides injured central defender Arnab Mondal, he has a fully fit squad to choose from. A good result in Vietnam will only increase the self-belief of this East Bengal squad ahead of the I-League title run-in.
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh: DWWWW
Sai Gon have played just two matches this season, winning both, but they are actually unbeaten at home in all competitions for almost 12 months now. They have not lost in nine matches in that period, and would be looking to continue that run by beating East Bengal.
East Bengal: WWWWW
East Bengal are on an eight-match winning run since their goalless draw with arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the I-League on February 9. Although half of those wins came in the Calcutta Football League, there is no doubt that they will come into this game full of confidence.
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh: Christian Nsi Amougou
The Cameroon striker, who was the V-League’s third-joint highest scorer last season, bagged a brace against Tampines Rovers and would be aiming for a similar display in front of his home fans. If Amougou is at his best then East Bengal will have a massive problem.
East Bengal: Edeh Chidi
The Nigerian has raised his game in big matches for East Bengal this season but was very wasteful against Selangor. Chidi would be aiming to be clinical in Vietnam and comes into this game on the back of match-winning brace against Prayag United in the last game.