Good morning to one and all. FC Istiklol took a giant step towards qualifying for the knockout stages of the AFC Cup last night with a narrow win over FC Ahal. I’ll bring you the Match Report for that later, but first, we need to take a look at the other games that are kicking off around the continent today.
I just wanted to mention the Istiklol game early doors because I called it right in the preview, what a dream!
Hwaepul SC vs 4.25 SC (Group I – 07:00/07:30 BST) All Times Are Listed In BST
I’ll level with you, this was a bit of an oversight on my part. This game would’ve already been played by the time the article goes out and there isn’t anyone I can blame for that bar myself as I didn’t decide to check the kick-off times until I was about to go to sleep last night.
Some sites have it kicking off at 7 AM and some have it as half an hour later, I’m not sure which is correct so I’m covering all bases by putting both.
4.25 are them to beat in this group as they’ve won every game, scoring on average four goals a game and only conceded one in the games they’ve played so far. Nevertheless, when they entertained Hwaepul earlier in the group stage, 4.25 could only manage a narrow 1-0 win, so, if Hwaepul can win by two or more goals, they’ll still have a chance of progressing.
That is, of course, only a possibility if 4.25 lose to Hang Yuen on the final day as well and considering the North Korean side pumped them 5-1 on matchday two, it’s hard to see anything other than a 4.25 win.
If you haven’t got your dreams though, then what have you got, eh? I’ll not bother with a prediction for this as it will no doubt come under scrutiny should I get in bang on the money.
Hang Yuen vs Benfica (Group I – 12:00)
This game may as well get simulated as it has got no bearing whatsoever on who qualifies. Benfica can still catch 4.25 in terms of points, however, after there two losses to them throughout the campaign, they can’t overthrow them due to a poor H2H record.
Hang Yuen, who hail from Chinese Taipei/Taiwan (depends on who you ask) nearly pulled off a shock win against Benfica back at the start of March. Ching-Hsuan Chen scored to first-half goals for Hang Yuen which had looked to put them in the driving seat, sometimes though, things don’t work out the way you want them two.
Three goals in the first nineteen minutes of the second-half, including a brace from Carlinhos Leonel, turned the game on its head and Benfica marched on.
As mentioned, neither side have anything to play for so it’s tough to predict, I’ll go for Hang Yuen 0-2 Benfica.
New Radiant SC vs Abahani Dhaka (Group E – 12:00)
After their crucial 2-0 win against Bengaluru last week, New Radiant can confirm qualification to the knockout stages if they win today and Bengaluru lose at home to Aizawl (more on that shortly).
It won’t be all that straightforward though as Abahani still harbour qualification aspirations of their own, albeit, the chances of it happening are pretty slim, there’s still a chance though.
Abahani Have To Win
Abahani didn’t help themselves by throwing away a lead at home to Aizawl last time out and for them to qualify it would require them to win today and against Bengaluru on the final matchday. That still might not be enough as they’d need Aizawl to get a result against NRSC as well.
In the return fixture, a single Ali Fasir goal gave the Maldivian side the win in the Bangladeshi capital and it’s hard to look beyond New Radiant picking up all three points on this occasion as well. NRSC 1-0 Abahani Dhaka.
Altyn Asyr vs FC Alay (Group D – 13:30)
With the aforementioned Istiklol’s win last night, the ball is now firmly in Altyn Asyr’s court. They host a pointless FC Alay in Turkmenistan in a game they simply have to win, there are no two ways about it.
If/when they do manage to win, it sets up a fantastic final day showdown with Istiklol in Tajikistan in a game where the winner will take all. Well, if it’s a draw, Istiklol will take all but that’s neither here nor there.
Altyn Asyr Also Have To Win
FC Alay were unlucky last time out as they lost to second-half stoppage time winner against Istiklol (they keep grinding out results don’t they?) whereas Altyn Asyr got a vital three points with a narrow 1-0 win over domestic rivals FC Ahal.
We can firmly say in unison that if the game this afternoon is anything like the return fixture (Altyn won 6-3) then we’ll all sleep soundly tonight.
Altymurad Annadurdiyev will be buzzing for tonight after scoring a treble against FC Alay and you have to feel that this game is only going to go one way. Altyn Asyr 3-0 FC Alay.
Bengaluru vs Aizawl (Group E – 15:30)
Lastly, we arrive at Bangalore for Bengaluru versus Aizawl in a game that the home side can ill-afford to lose. As I touched on earlier, if NRSC see off Abahani at 12 PM and Bengaluru fall to the I-League side, their AFC campaign will be over for another year and when you consider that they lost to Chennaiyin in the ISL final, it’ll be 2020 at the earliest that Albert Roca’s side have a chance to put things right.
In the run-up to Bengaluru’s defeat last week, I said that if Chhetri plays they would win, yet I was wrong. Maybe there’s somebody who is more crucial than Chhetri in this instance.
Bengaluru Could Also Do With A Win
For all the pelters I’ve given him recently, maybe Roca needs to select Gurpreet over Ralte as while Gurpreet may be prone to the odd clanger here and there, his decision making is normally relatively good. If he was in goal in the Maldives last week, it may have been a different story.
Bengaluru should win this. Aizawl have got nothing but pride to play for and Bengaluru are, in my eyes, the best team in India by a distance. It all depends on how much they want it.
Having Roca back in the dugout will make a huge difference and there have been countless efforts on social media from the club and ultras alike to get the fans in the stadium. We will see.
For what it’s worth, I think Bengaluru will nick this 2-1.
In closing, four out of the five games have something riding on them today which is brilliant when you consider that this is the penultimate matchday.
One has a funny feeling that there may well be a team that drops points who really shouldn’t today and I don’t know why, but I feel that Abahani may well get a point against New Radiant which will send Bengaluru back to the summit providing they win as well. Time will tell.
Until the next time.