Having held Hong Kong giants Kitchee SC at home, a spirited East Bengal will be aiming for full points when they face bottom-placed Balestier Khalsa FC in the group F of the AFC Cup football tournament at the Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow.
The I-League runners-up, who were thrashed 4-1 by Johor Darul Ta’Zim to kick off their campaign on a sorry note, bounced back to hold the last year’s semifinalists 1-1 in their last fixture.
The Hong Kong outfit led at the half-time but it was East Bengal’s Nigerian forward Ranti Martins who once again came to the rescue by scoring his 21st goal of the competition, the highest from Indian team.
But the good thing for East Bengal is that their ominous forward combination in Martins and Dudu Omagbemi have started complementing each other.
“Martins needs good players around him. He’s not a player that leads a team. He just needs players to get him the ball in the box. I am trying to bring in a little bit of structure and hope that helps him. So far, he has done well. Also, Dudu is working very hard even though he’s not among goals. But once he fires, we’ll start dominating,” the Dutchman said.
Despite playing without four of their star players in Arnab Mondal, Saumik Dey, Lalrindika Ralte and Cavin Lobo, who are doing national duty, East Bengal managed to put up a resolute show, something their coach Eelco Schattorie will look forward to in an away match.
The Dutchman is likely to retain the same team even as it remains to be seen whether their defender Robert Lalthalmuana, who has a minor knee injury, is able to start or not.
“We have a good opportunity to win and we’ll certainly go for three points. The same XI is more likely to start, as only Robert (Lalthalmuana) has a minor knee injury. I believe it’s not such a serious one,” Schattorie said.
Khalsa FC are yet to open their account as they have suffered back to back losses to remain at the bottom of the table.
The Singapore Cup winners lost 0-3 to Kitchee in their opening match, while in round two they went down 0-1 to Johor Darul Ta’zim at home in their debut AFC Cup appearance.
Their success will hinge on their South Korean forward duo of Kim Min Ho and Park Kang Jin while the other two foreign recruits in Emir Lotinac (Yugoslavia) and Paul Cunningham (New Zealand) in the defence will also play a key role.