A daunting task, but BFC is primed for it

On paper, it seems rather simple for Bengaluru FC (BFC). After having secured a crucial away goal in the 1-1 draw at Johor Darul Ta’zim in the first leg of the AFC Cup semifinal, it’s only one clean sheet away from going through to the final.

ACID TEST: Bengaluru FC prepares in right earnest for its game against Johor Darul Ta’zim on Wednesday, probably its toughest examination yet.

But the strength of its opponent — Johor is the defending champion — and the weight of history — if BFC gets through, it will be the first Indian club ever to reach the final — have ensured that it’s probably the reigning I-League champion’s toughest examination till date.

However, it’s a task BFC would like to believe is not beyond it when it meets Johor in the second leg at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Wednesday. In the four times the clubs have met, BFC has been thoroughly outplayed only once — a 3-0 reverse away in the group stages in May.

BFC will be without the services of injured striker Udanta Singh. The centre-back John Johnson is carrying a niggle but is expected to be fit. Johor will also be missing two of its first-choice strikers in Argentines Juan Martin Lucero and Jorge Diaz. But Roca warned that it would be a grave mistake to think that Johor will be diminished.

“The substitutes they have play in the Malaysian national team,” said the Spaniard. “They have experience. If we think that it will be easier, even five per cent easier, we will be committing an error. The players know that it will be tough; perhaps even more than with the Argentine guys around.”

Johor, in fact, has everything to play for. Thus far in the season, it has already picked up the Malaysian League, FA Cup and Shield titles. For such an all-conquering side, to not defend the AFC Cup crown would, indeed, be a blow.

Preaching patience
For that, its Argentine coach Mario Gomez preached patience. “I know it’s a difficult game,” he said. “Bengaluru is very strong in defence. But we have 90 minutes to score that one goal. We need to be patient and stick to our plan.”

Right through the media briefing on Tuesday, Roca, perhaps sensing how a game of such magnitude can unnerve even the best of players, sought to play the hype down and instead look at the larger picture.

“Johor is the favourite for me,” he said. “For India, its one of the most important games in history. I am aware of it. But I try to be calm and speak to the players in the same way.

“They should not be overly stimulated. We will try and go to the final. But to be competitive and work hard are the most important things to achieve. Not only for tomorrow or the final but beyond for Indian football to grow.”