Bengaluru begin AFC Cup campaign with Lao Toyota test (Preview)

Vientiane (Laos), Feb 23 (IANS) Coach Ashley Westwood said his team’s tryst with continental football last season will hopefully hold them in good stead as Bengaluru FC kick-start their 2016 AFC Cup campaign when they come up against Lao Toyota FC in a Group H opener at the National Stadium here on Wednesday.

Bengaluru arrived here on Sunday morning before putting in two training sessions on Monday and Tuesday and the tactician said preparations for the game were on track.

“We’ve been here two days which was good because the players have had time to acclimatise. We’ve had a look at the pitch, we’ve had a little football and the lads are keen to get going,” said Westwood on Tuesday.

The big absentee for the Indian team is skipper Sunil Chhetri who hasn’t made the trip owing to a strained groin while Eugeneson Lyngdoh continues his recuperation from a fracture. However, young striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia is in the reckoning after recovering from a knee injury that had kept him on the sidelines for over a month.

Lao Toyota, like Bengaluru, were established in 2013 and made the AFC Cup group stages by virtue of being the Lao Premier League champions last season. Their previous and only AFC Cup journey ended with an exit in the group stages last season after three draws and defeats each.

While Bengaluru have never faced Lao Toyota, Westwood said that his team had been studying some footage of their opponents.

“We’ve watched a few videos from last season given that the league here hasn’t begun as yet and we are well aware of what we are up against. The Lao players are technically and physically good and will prove tough opposition,” Westwood said.

“We’ve played in Malaysia, Maldives, Singapore and Hong Kong and we know the standard and level that Asia demands. Hopefully, we will give a good account of ourselves.”

Bengaluru put up a good show in Asia last season, coming out of the group stages behind Indonesian side Persipura Jayapura before going down 0-2 to South China in the Round of 16.

Malaysian team and current AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta’zim FC and Ayeyawady United FC from Myanmar complete Group H – one that Westwood tips Johor to be the favourites of.

“If you see where they are and what they’ve done, Johor are the favourites. They’ve also had a huge injection of money where they have signed some players. After that, it’s between us, Lao Toyota and Ayeyawady,” said Westwood.

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