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History beckons Bengaluru FC ahead of AFC Cup final

Bengaluru FC will be aiming to script history by becoming the first Indian football club to win the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup when they take on Iraqi outfit Air Force Club in the final on Saturday.

They have already become the first Indian team to enter the final of the prestigious tournament and will be eyeing to crown their dream journey by lifting the winners trophy.

Both sides will be playing their maiden final, to be played at the Sultan Bin Hamad Stadium, and all eyes will be on Bengaluru in what is their most important match in their three-year history.

Two I-League titles and a Federation Cup are already in the southern outfit’s cabinet in such a short span of time, but their show in the continental tournament this time has turned many heads at a time when the sport in the country in going through transition.

Bengaluru surprised reigning AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta’zim 4-2 on aggregate during the semi-final stage. Captain Sunil Chhetri scored a brace in the second leg at home becoming their top-scorer with five goals to his name.

What should work in favour of Bengaluru, who have peaked just at the right time, is injury woes to their opponents’ influential midfielder Bashar Rasan and centre-back Samal Saaed of Air Force Club.

The 19-year-old midfielder recently made his debut for the Iraqi national team. He fast became one of the most important players for Air Force Club netting three goals in the continental meet this year.

Meanwhile, Saaed played in 10 AFC Cup matches for the Iraqi team and is their first choice centre-back.

Bengaluru, on their part, will miss the services of first-choice goalkeeper Amrinder Singh who is suspended. Defender Shankar Sampingiraj, midfielder Darren Caldeira and full back Lalchhuanmawia Fanai are yet to completely recover from their injuries also.

But the crux of the team remains the same with the likes of Udanta Singh also on hand to make an impact from the bench.

Bengaluru coach Albert Roca said his team is under no pressure and they will prepare the game to the best of their ability.

“It’s an important game and the players know it but at the end of it all, it’s just another game. As professionals, the players know that we have a tough team up against us in Air Force Club. The most important thing is to be as prepared as possible,” Roca said on Friday.

“There’s no pressure. All the games I’ve been in charge here have been important games and I can say that these players are up for the task and they’re ready to go.”

The tournament’s leading scorer Hammadi Ahmed insisted they will need to raise their game ahead of the title clash.

“We have to fight hard and lift our level on Saturday because it’s the final of the AFC Cup competition,” Ahmed was quoted as saying in AFC’s official website on Friday.

“We will look to reduce our mistakes, and – although we must respect our opponents – we must focus very strongly in the game.”

Ahmed’s clinical finishing in front of goal have been a big part of Air Force Club’s success in this year’s edition of the AFC Cup with his 15 strikes coming from just 10 appearances.

Bengaluru have never played against a West Asian side before. A win on Saturday will make them richer by $1 million while a defeat will fetch them half of the amount.

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