For those of you keeping regular tabs on the site, you’ll know that Bengaluru successfully qualified for the group stages of the 2018 AFC Cup recently. What we haven’t done yet on here is take a look at their opponents in the group stage, so that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. Bengaluru qualified for the competition after winning the now-defunct Indian Federation Cup last season; from this season, that competition has been replaced with the Indian Super Cup. I’m conscious we haven’t really touched on that yet either, trust me, we will in good time. Patience is a virtue, don’t you know?
Bengaluru’s Cup Win
They qualified for the Indian Federation Cup after finishing 4th in the I-League, the top eight qualified for the cup automatically. It wasn’t a straight knockout like the Super Cup will be when it gets up and running; it was set up as two groups of four, with the top two going through to the semi-finals. They won their opening group game, beating Shillong Lajong 3-2. They failed to win either of their other group games but scraped through due to results going their way during the final set of fixtures.
In the semi-final, they came up against Aizawl, who funnily enough are also in their AFC Group and they won courtesy of an early Cameron Watson penalty. It could have been a different story completely if Aizawl hadn’t missed a penalty of their own late on in the game as that would’ve sent the game to extra time, where it really could’ve gone either way.
Mohun Bagan were Bengaluru’s opponents in the final and they proved to be an equal match for one another as after ninety minutes it was still goalless. In extra time, now Kerala man, CK Vineeth was the difference as two goals in the second half of extra time ensured that Bengaluru took the trophy back to Bangalore. His first had a stroke of luck about it as it took a deflection, but, the second capped off a fast-paced counter-attack which on the whole, made sure the trophy went to its deserved winners.
Right, so that’s Bengaluru for you. We already know quite a bit about them already, so let’s find out who they’re up against in Group E…
Ah yes, the aforementioned Aizawl. They won the I-League last season, meaning that they were fortunate enough to qualify for the AFC Champions League, however, they lost to Zob Ahan of Iran, 3-1, in a play-off game which meant they were demoted to the group stages of the AFC Cup. Similar to how the Champions League and Europa League work in Europe, that’s the best way to imagine it.
They ended up winning the league by a solitary point, although, it didn’t go down to the last day due to the fact they beat Mohun Bagan in the penultimate round of fixtures at home, thus clinching their first ever title. It was a weird way that things happened because the season prior to them winning the title, they were meant to be relegated to the second division but due to the fact that some teams pulled out, they were reinstated. Weird how things work out, isn’t it?
Tough To Beat At Home
It’s no secret that they won the league due to their home form. Aizawl only dropped two points from nine games at home as they made their stadium somewhat of a fortress and they ended up picking up more than twice as many points at home (25) than they did away (12). They’ve faltered this season and are miles off the pace; with only one game left, the highest they can finish is fifth, whereas it is possible they could drop as low as eighth before the season finishes. It’s safe to say that their campaign in the AFC will be a welcome distraction to what has been a torrid season.
In terms of target men, it’s tough to say; Andrei Ionescu is the only one with a picture on Soccerway so he must be half decent and looking at his playing career, he’s spent a lot of time in Hungary and his native Romania where he didn’t do too badly. He’s won the Romanian Cup twice, the Hungarian Cup and the Romanian Super Cup, not a bad tally and when you consider he once commanded a €800,000 fee, he’s one that Bengaluru will have to keep an eye on.
Interestingly, Bengaluru have never lost to Aizawl and Albert Roca will be keen to keep that record intact when they face each other this time around. It was, in fact, Bengaluru that prevented Aizawl from having a 100% home record the season they won the title, so they will have a score to settle, as well.
Aizawl (H) 7/3 | Aizawl (A) 2/5.
Right, Aizawl were straightforward to find information on as the I-League is well covered, Abahani, on the other hand, won’t be that easy. You’ll have to forgive me if there isn’t as much information on this mob as there was Aizawl. Now, Abahani won the domestic double last season in Bangladesh, winning the league by five points and winning the cup courtesy of a blistering twelve minute period where they went 3-0 up against Abahani Chittagong. Chittagong could only respond with a goal in the last ten minutes and at that point, there was no way they were going to recover.
Emeka Darlington was the star of their cup run and won the golden boot for the cup competition, finishing on three goals. He also contributed seven goals in their successful league campaign, however, the plaudits must go to Sunday Chizoba who notched up a very impressive nine goals in ten games.
100% Record At Home
They only lost twice all season and won EVERY game at home, which regardless of what league you play in, it’s an incredible feat. From the last ten games in the league, they picked up a staggering twenty-seven points which is what made the difference in the end and to confirm their superiority in the league, they beat their closest challenger, Sheikh Jamal, 2-0 in the penultimate game of the season.
You have to say, that so far, both of them look like a nightmare to travel to for Bengaluru and they do have a bit of history. They faced one another at the same stage last year with the home side winning 2-0 on both occasions and it’ll be intriguing to see the match-up after another season in their respective leagues.
Abahani (H) 14/3 | Abahani (A) 16/5.
New Radiant SC
Before you ask, no this isn’t a shameless plug for a shampoo company. This is actually the name of the other side in Bengaluru’s group and the one that I feel may cause the biggest surprise. New Radiant SC or NRSC, which they’ll be called for the rest of this segment, are the most successful sports club to come from the Maldives. Period. Bengaluru dispatched the other Maldivian entrant, TC Sports in the final qualifying round after a resounding 8-2 aggregate victory. NRSC, however, are a completely different kettle of fish; TC Sports qualified due to the fact they finished runners-up to NRSC.
Now, what that doesn’t tell you is that NRSC finished seven points ahead of TC Sports, despite the fact there are only fourteen games in the league, which gives you some idea about how far ahead NRSC are in comparison to the rest of the league.
Won Every Game Bar One
As Abahani did, NRSC also won their respective domestic double last season and they did it even with even more guile than the Bangladeshi side. NRSC dropped points once throughout the season and that was their first away game of the season, so you can probably excuse that. They won three games by six goals which sort of gives you some idea how far in front they are; imagine Celtic in the SPL, but better.
The well-travelled Guillem Marti will probably be the one leading the line for NRSC and if you look at the core of their squad, you’ll see another Spaniard, Candela, who dictates play in the middle of the park. The defensive part of their spine consists of Stevan Markovic & Jorge Gotor; Gotor, another Spanish import, joined in January from Indonesian side Mitra Kukar and it’s thought he’ll pair up with Markovic, who also arrived in the Maldives earlier this year. For me, these are the team to watch and it’ll be interesting to see how they match up against Bengaluru.
NRSC (H) 10/4 | NRSC (A) 25/4
There you have it. Those are Bengaluru’s opponents for the 2018 AFC Cup and we will keep you up to date every step of the way on here; hopefully, we will be updating you for quite a while as Bengaluru progress deeper and deeper into the competition. Time will tell.
All things considered, if I was a betting man and luckily I am, I’d be backing Bengaluru and NRSC to progress from the group.
Until the next time.