History beckons trailblazers Bengaluru FC as they lock horns with Air Force Club of Iraq in the summit clash of AFC Cup here today, aiming to become the first Indian football club to clinch a continental title.
Bengaluru FC have already created history by becoming the first Indian club to qualify for the final of a continental tournament after they defeated defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim in the semifinals on 4-2 aggregate last month.
Before this, the farthest an Indian club had advanced in a continental tournament was the two AFC Cup semifinal appearances by Dempo in 2008 and East Bengal in 2013.
But a bigger glory, which will be unprecedented in the annals of Indian football history, awaits Bengaluru as they prepare to clash with the Iraqi side, which, just like the Indian club, is also playing in its maiden AFC Cup final, at the Qatar Sports Club Stadium.
No football team from India, a laggard in the international arena, has won an Asian level title since the national side bagged the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games gold.
The Bengaluru-based side, coached by Albert Roca, a former assistant coach at FC Barcelona, have been in superb form in the tournament winning six times, losing thrice and drawing twice. They are also expected to get the homelike feeling here as a large number of Indian expatriates settled in Qatar will be rooting for them.
Bengaluru players, led by India captain Sunil Chhetri, will have the extra motivation to chase history today but they will have to play out of their skin against a top class Iraqi side which have at least four national team players and have won eight out of 11 matches in the tournament. They drew twice and lost once.
Air Force Club have scored 26 goals in 11 matches so far in their campaign with 15 coming from their rampaging striker Hammadi Ahmed Abdullah, a national team player.
“We have to fight hard and lift our level on Saturday because it’s the final of the AFC Cup competition. We will look to reduce our mistakes, and -- although we must respect our opponents -- we must focus very strongly in the game,” said Ahmed.
Roca, however, is not unduly worried about their opponents’ goal-scoring spree. “I’ve said more than a few times that we play to our strengths. We have got to be brave and I don’t see how going defensive translates to being brave. Yes, they are a good side that loves scoring but we back ourselves,” said Roca.
Bengaluru FC to get $ 1 MN if they win AFC Cup
A whopping $ 1 million prize purse awaits Indian champion club Bengaluru FC if they manage to beat Air Force Club of Iraq and clinch the AFC Cup here today.The runners-up side will bag $ 0.5 mn.The decision to increase the prize money for the winners of 2016 AFC Cup from $ 350,000 to $ 1 mn was approved by the AFC Executive Committee at its meeting on November 27 in New Delhi. The runners-up prize money was doubled from $ 250,000 to $ 500,000, while the semi-finalists, who received nothing in 2015, will get $ 40,000. The quarter-finalists and round of 16 clubs get $ 25,000 and $ 15,000 respectively Bengaluru FC became the first Indian club to reach the final of the AFC Cup.