Author : Amoy Ghoshal
Venue: Haji Agus Salim Stadium, Padang, Indonesia
Kickoff: Tuesday, September 24 2013, 13:30 IST (LIVE on ESPN)
The scenario coming into the second leg could have been so different had Semen Padang been more clinical in the first leg in Kolkata.
Using their additional man in midfield, the Indonesian champions controlled the game in the first half but failed to take their chances with East Bengal goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu also making a couple of vital saves.
In the second half, Semen Padang’s intensity dropped but they still managed to hit the woodwork just before Ryuji Sueoka’s winner. So, having lost 1-0 last week, Semen Padang now must win by two clear goals or else see their hopes of reaching the semi-finals get dashed in front of their own passionate fans.
But they have won each of their four home matches in the AFC Cup this season and thus would be aiming to make it five in a row and become the first Indonesian club to make the last four of this competition.
The key statistic from those four home wins is that Semen Padang failed to keep a clean sheet in each of the games and in the one-legged round of 16 match, they had to come from behind to beat Vietnam’s SHB Da Nang, with the winner coming in stoppage time.
The Indonesian outfit can’t afford to concede in this game because it would put immense pressure on them to score three due to the away goals rule.
The performance in the round of 16 and the second half showing in the first leg against East Bengal suggests that the team is still not completely used to playing AFC Cup knockout games.
But coach Jafri Sastra would be hoping that his players get rid of any psychological barrier now that they have played two big matches and the backing of around 15,000 supporters in familiar conditions should help that cause.
Semen Padang should also take confidence from the fact that they outplayed East Bengal for long periods in the away leg despite the absence of two of their key players - Wahyu Wijiastanto and Esteban Vizcarra, both of whom will return from suspension in this game.
Given the problems East Bengal have in central midfield, Semen Padang should once again look to control the middle of the park and get runners to support Liberian striker Edward Junior Wilson.
Technically and physically Semen Padang looked the better side for an hour in the first leg and now with the presence of their 12th man in the return leg, the reigning Indonesian champions should raise their game even more in a bid to overturn the first leg deficit.
Plenty of dignitaries, like the governor of West Sumatra and president of Indonesian football federation are also expected to witness this game, so clearly there is massive interest both in Padang and Indonesia in general.
It’s fair to say that Semen Padang will be under pressure to progress to the semis.
Photo Credit: Kingfisher East Bengal
Despite an unconvincing performance, East Bengal hold a slender lead going into the second leg and the fact that they didn’t concede an away goal could prove to be decisive in the two-legged tie.
The shadow of Trevor Morgan’s achievements still looms large on East Bengal’s current Brazilian coach Marcos Falopa, but at least the first leg win gave him a big result to kick-start his reign.
Like opponents Semen Padang, East Bengal are also on the verge of some history as they could become the first Indian club since Dempo to reach the AFC Cup semis.
The red-and-gold brigade were unbeaten away from home in the group stage, with one win and a couple of draws, but could afford to lose the second leg and still go through if they score and lose by a one-goal margin.
But one of the main reasons behind their impressive group stage under Morgan was the fact they always had an intention to win the game and that kind of an approach will be necessary in this return leg.
Despite the advantage from the first leg, Falopa has a massive problem in central midfield as following the injury to Cavin Lobo, Mehtab Hossain remains the only natural central midfielder in the squad.
The Brazilian surprisingly replaced Lobo with striker Baljit Sahni in the travelling squad, although he could have easily taken young Subodh Kumar.
As a result, the outcome of this leg and the tie overall could depend heavily on Falopa’s team selection as he will have to decide his midfield combination and also whether he should employ two strikers or just one upfront, something which he did in the final half hour of the first leg and that decision went in East Bengal’s favour.
However, to make things simpler, the Kolkata club could just try and keep scoring to make Semeng Padang’s task even tougher. East Bengal scored six in three away games of the group stage and opened the scoring in two of the matches with one of them ending in a goalless draw.
Falopa’s boys will be well aware that an early away goal will give them complete control of this tie.
Although history counts for nothing once the game starts, some East Bengal players will be aware how Indonesia has been the sight of a couple of big Indian football achievements.
India’s last gold medal in the Asian Games came back in 1962 at Jakarta while East Bengal famously lifted the ASEAN Trophy ten years ago in the same city, and they defeated a couple of Indonesian clubs on their way to the title.
Two of the current players, Alvito D’Cunha and Shylo Malswamtluanga were part of that ASEAN team, and their experience will be priceless.
In fact, if East Bengal have an edge over Semen Padang, it’s on the experience front as goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal and Joaquim Abranches have also played in the AFC Cup semis.
On paper though, Semen Padang are the slight favourites and Falopa possibly did the right thing by admitting it ahead of the match as it could take some of the pressure away from his side, as the expectations within the squad might have further increased after the first leg.
Morgan is still missed by the East Bengal faithful, but 64-year-old Falopa could become the new darling of the club’s enormous fanbase if he can guide them to the semi-finals.
Semen Padang: WWWDL
The first leg was only their second loss in 24 matches in all competitions and first in this season’s AFC Cup. Semen Padang have been near perfect at home though, having won 12 of their 13 matches in all competitions.
East Bengal: LWWWW
East Bengal have an impressive away record in this calendar year with just one defeat in seven matches outside Kolkata. The red-and-gold brigade has only lost by two or more goals only twice in the last 17 months.
Coach Sastra will be delighted to welcome back center back Wijiastanto and Argentinean attacking midfielder Vizcarra from suspension and the duo should instantly return to the starting eleven.
Otherwise, there shouldn’t be any other changes to the lineup that started the first leg, but considering what’s required in the return leg, Sastra could be tempted to play another striker besides Wilson.
Possible XI: Jandia Eka Putra; Hengky Ardiles, David Pagbe, Wahyu Wijiastanto, Novon Setya; Elie Aiboy, Vendry Ronaldo Mofu, Yoo Hyun-Goo, Titus Bonai, Estevan Vizcarra; Edward Junior Wilson.
Match winner of the first leg, Sueoka is expected to start but East Bengal’s central midfield is anybody’s guess at the moment.
It will be interesting to see what system Falopa uses and whether he plays both Edeh Chidi and James Moga upfront. It is only the Brazilian’s fourth official game in charge but he already has to take a couple of massive decisions that could make or break his reign.
Possible XI: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Naoba Singh, Arnab Mondal, Uga Okpara, Saumik Dey; Mehtab Hossain; Reisangmi Vashum, Ryuji Sueoka , Lalrindika Ralte, Joaquim Abranches; Edeh Chidi.
Players to watch
Semen Padang – Edward Junior Wilson
Wilson (in red)
Despite not getting on the scoresheet, Wilson was one of the best players in the first leg and showed why Mohun Bagan were desperate to secure his signature in the summer.
Interestingly, it was the first game in this year’s AFC Cup where Wilson failed to score and the Liberian will be looking to make up for that in this match.
East Bengal – Edeh Chidi
Chidi looked unfit and was uncharacteristically wasteful in the first leg but was still dangerous and should keep his place in the team even if Falopa plays one striker. Although he scored just once in the group away games, the Nigerian had a presence and brought others into play quite well. East Bengal will need him to be at his best in this crucial second leg.