| Ryuji Sueoka after scoring against Semen Padang in the first leg, at the Salt Lake Stadium |
Calcutta: A draw away from their maiden AFC Cup semi-final berth, East Bengal are at ease with themselves.
On Monday, the eve of their AFC Cup quarter final (second leg) match against Semen Padang, at the Agus Salim Stadium, in Padang, the East Bengal players had a 120-minute practice session.
All eyes were on Ryuji Sueoka and James Moga. But their fates may be different on Tuesday.
Sueoka, whose brilliant strike against Padang gave the red-and-gold brigade a deserving 1-0 victory in the first leg on September 17, is all set to get his first start. This is on expected lines since Cavin Lobo is ruled out with a knee injury.
But Moga’s place may go to Joaquim Abranches, even though the South Sudanese striker has been very impressive in the practice sessions.
Coach Marcos Falopa refused to divulge the playing XI, but sources said that barring some minor changes, most of the players who started on September 17, will be there in the starting line-up.
In the first leg, East Bengal were a different outfit after Sueoka and Abranches were introduced. Edeh Chidi had a poor first half on September 17, but worked hard after the hour mark. On Tuesday, he should drop down to help the midfield.
Talking about the East Bengal midfield, it didn’t perform to the desired level. Captain Mehtab Hussain, Lobo, Reisangmi Vashum and Lalrindika Ralte failed to stamp their authority. That allowed Semen Padang to dominate the proceedings for most part of the match.
For Padang, the likes of Elie Aiboy and Vendry Mofu will surely try to take control of midfield from the word ‘go’.
The return of Argentine playmaker Esteban Gabriel Vizcara will definitely bolster the Indonesian Premier League leaders’ midfield.
He links up well with leading goalscorer Edward Wilson and the East Bengal back-four, which looked very cagey in the first-leg, would have a battle on hand.
East Bengal central defender Uga Okpara was not in his elements last Tuesday. He was slow while retreating and had luck been with the Padang’s side, things would have been different. East Bengal also owed it to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who made some brilliant saves. Hopefully the often-fumbling goalkeeper will hold his nerves on Tuesday as well.
Padang coach Jaffri Sastra said his team would go all-out for a semi-final berth. “We need to win by a 2-goal margin. It’s not a simple tasků East Bengal have quality foreigners in Sueoka, Chidi and (Uga) Okpara. We have to be very cautious,” he said.
Padang will also welcome back central defender Wahyu Wijiastanto. After Sueoka’s introduction, East Bengal did manage to find some pockets of space to manoeuvre. Padang are hoping Wijiastanto’s return will help them to plug the loopholes.
“Defence will be our main focus on Tuesday. There are a few things we need to evaluate from the first leg. Previously, our defenders played well, but the opponent could use spaces between them. We will have to make sure it’s not happening again this time,” said technical director Suhatman Iman said.
Padang boast a 100 per cent home record in the AFC Cup after beating Singapore’s Warriors FC, Hong Kong’s Kitchee and India’s Churchill Brothers by identical 3-1 scorelines in the group stage, before downing Vietnam’s SHB Da Nang 2-1 in the Round of 16.
East Bengal also are unbeaten at home winning five matches on the trot which in itself an Indian record. But Tuesday’s away tie is a different challenge altogether.
The winner of the quarter final will earn a semi-final against either defending champions Kuwait Sports Club or New Radiant of the Maldives next month.
At the National Stadium in Male last week, Kuwait SC recorded a 7-2 win over New Radiant to take a huge step towards a fourth semi-final appearance in five years.
But for now, the focus is entirely on East Bengal.