Venue: Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata, India
Kickoff: Tuesday, September 17 2013, 16:30 IST
Marcos Falopa has the chance to become an instant hit with East Bengal supporters if he guides the club to the semis
There hasn’t been too many changes in the East Bengal squad since their last AFC Cup match back in May but the highly popular Trevor James Morgan is no longer in charge and has been replaced by Brazilian Marcos Falopa. While the players remain determined to continue their brilliant run in Asia, this quarter-final tie means much more to their new coach as it could make or break his stint at East Bengal.
Falopa has plenty of coaching experience around the world but at East Bengal, he remains in the shadow of Morgan’s three-year consistent reign and the only way to come out of it is to guide the Kolkata club to a historical semi-final appearance. But the Brazilian is still getting used to the Kolkata and the Indian football environment and is yet to have complete control over the dressing room. Despite all that, Falopa will be well aware that he is going to take charge of East Bengal’s most important game in nine years and has to deliver instant results.
On a positive note, the current East Bengal squad looks slightly better than the one which Trevor Morgan left behind especially on the foreigners’ front. The experienced Japanese Ryuji Sueoka has replaced Penn Orji. In terms of quality, that is more or less a straight swap, although they are slightly different players.
The biggest upgrade has been in attack as misfiring Australian Andrew Barisic has been replaced by former Pune FC striker James Moga, who not only has the experience of playing in India but should be able to share the goal scoring responsibility with last season’s top scorer Edeh Chidi.
The energy and versatility of Ishfaq Ahmed and Sanju Pradhan may not have been replaced but the addition of Joaquim Abranches has given Falopa more options in attack. The Brazilian has also got veteran Alvito D’Cunha rejuvenated and Cavin Lobo is also finding his feet after falling out of favour under Morgan.
Falopa’s biggest concern will be the lack of competitive matches ahead of this two-legged quarterfinal tie. Barring a series of friendlies against ordinary or amateur opposition, East Bengal have only played a couple of Calcutta Football League matches, one of which also couldn’t be completed due to bad light.
His team had it easy in both of those games but Falopa was unable to try out his best XI, either due to the fact that only two foreigners were allowed in those matches or because three of his players were away on international duty. Hence, the first leg will be the first real game where Falopa gets to select his best available eleven and considering the quality of the opposition, that is not the kind of preparation he would have hoped for.
Nonetheless, home advantage gives East Bengal a great opportunity to make a good start in this tie. On paper, the Indian club are slight underdogs, but to stand any chance of reaching the last four, they must win the first leg by a big margin or at least triumph without conceding an away goal.
History In Sight
The Indonesian champions have some history in sight as they are in the quarter-finals for the first time, while no club from their country has ever played in the last four of the AFC Cup. Semen Padang featured in the last eight of the old Asian Cup Winners’ Cup two decades ago but this is their debut appearance in the AFC Cup and like East Bengal they have progressed to the quarters without losing a game.
They showed their quality on match day two of the group stage against Churchill Brothers in Pune, when they held the eventual I-League champions to a 2-2 draw despite playing without any foreigners. Semen Padang will take confidence from that performance and will be boosted by the presence of three of their foreigners, including their Liberian top scorer Edward Junior Wilson, who was reportedly a target of Mohun Bagan during the summer.
While East Bengal have only started their season, Semen Padang only recently resumed their season following a two month Ramadan break. They were running away with the Indonesian Premier League (IPL) title before the break with 40 points from 15 games but were held to a 2-2 draw by Persijap last Wednesday. Padang still remain seven points clear at the top with a game in hand and have lost just once in 23 matches in all competitions with 19 of them ending in victory.
Like East Bengal, Semen Padang too doesn’t have any domestic assignment in between the two legs with their next league encounter not until the first week of October. While East Bengal coach Falopa’s wish of playing a friendly against a foreign club side wasn’t granted, Padang faced Singapore outfit Tampines Rovers earlier this month and beat them 2-0. That game certainly helped in their preparations for this tie however the artificial turf of the Salt Lake Stadium will remain a concern for the visitors and their performance tomorrow will depend a lot on how they adapt to the unfamiliar ground conditions.
Like East Bengal, Semen Padang too were looking to avoid a West Asian team in the last eight. So it’s fair to say that like the Kolkata club, the Indonesian team too will fancy their chances of making the semi-finals. Since it’s the away leg, Semen Padang don’t really have to go all out for a win but back in the group stage, they showed plenty of attacking intent as they beat Hong Kong’s Kitchee, one of the best South-East Asian club sides, home and away.
Technically and physically, Semen Padang possibly have an edge over East Bengal on paper but it would be interesting to see how they cope with the magnitude of the game as the AFC Cup quarter-finals is unknown territory for them. They showed a few nerves against Vietnam’s SHB Da Nang in the one-legged round of 16 tie, where they needed an injury time winner to go through.
Coach Jafri Sastra would be hoping that his team deal with the psychological challenge better this time and give a strong away performance as there are plenty of expectations from the team, with East Sumatra’s governor also making the trip to Kolkata.
East Bengal: WLWWW
East Bengal’s home form in the 2013 AFC Cup has been immaculate, with four wins in as many games. They faced Indonesia’s Persipura Jayapura in the 2011 group stage and failed to beat them home and away. Falopa would at least hope to win the home leg this time.
Semen Padang: WWWWD
The draw against Persijap last midweek ended a sequence of eight straight wins going back to May. Semen Padang have also won their last five matches in the AFC Cup, including the 3-1 home win over I-League champions Churchill Brothers.
Falopa has retained the core of Trevor Morgan’s side and has mostly used the 4-4-2 system in practice games and the Calcutta Football League. The big decision for the Brazilian will be whether to start with Japanese Ryuji Sueoka, who hasn’t been entirely fit in the coach’s eyes while Falopa also has to take a call about Joaquim Abranches, who has started the two local league games but isn’t the best defensively. James Moga and Edeh Chidi should start in attack.
Possible XI: Abhijit Mondal; Naoba Singh, Arnab Mondal, Uga Okpara, Saumik Dey; Reisangmi Vashum, Cavin Lobo, Mehtab Hossain, Lalrindika Ralte; James Moga, Edeh Chidi.
While East Bengal could play three foreigners out of choice, Semen Padang have one foreigner ruled out due to suspension. Versatile Argentinean attacking midfielder Esteban Vizcarra is the player in question and he along with experienced centre back Wahyu Wijiastanto are unavailable due to double booking. Muhammad Nur Iskandar and Saepulloh Maulana are expected to be their replacements.
Possible XI: Fakhrurrazi; Hengky Ardiles, David Pagbe, Saepulloh Maulana, Ricky Ohorella; Elie Aiboy, Muhammad Rizal, Yoo Hyun-Goo, Titus Bonai; Edward Junior Wilson, Muhammad Nur Iskandar.
Player To Watch
East Bengal – Edeh Chidi
The Nigerian netted a hattrick in East Bengal’s last AFC Cup game against Myanmar’s Yangon United in the round of 16 and will be aiming for a similar performance in the first leg also. Chidi would be looking to combine well with James Moga and help East Bengal establish a healthy first leg advantage.
Semen Padang – Edward Junior Wilson
The Liberian missed out on the away game against Churchill Brothers due to visa issues but has otherwise featured in his team’s every other AFC Cup match, scoring nine in six games. Following Mohun Bagan’s reported interest, Wilson will be under pressure to live up to the expectations.