Tough challenge awaits Chhetri’s boys in Maldives


Indian Super League (ISL) side Bengaluru FC will have their task cut out when they take on Maldives’ Club Eagles — a side which boasts of some big international names — in the AFC Cup play-off tie on Tuesday.

The Bengaluru FC players and staff, who landed in Male on Friday afternoon, got straight down to business to prepare for the tough challenge, as the winners of the match will progress to the group stages of the 2021 AFC Cup.

Among the key players the Sunil Chhetri-led team will have to contend with are 23-year-old Lebanese goalkeeper Mohammad Taha, Russian striker Vladislav Kormishin and the experienced Club Eagles’ Egyptian defender Elsayed Mahmoud.

The 23-year-old Taha began his career at Safa Beirut SC in his home country before moving to Egypt’s top club Al Ahli. Taha joined Club Eagles earlier this year and featured in their AFC Cup Preliminary Round 1 match against Thimphu City FC, helping his team maintain a clean sheet.

Striker Kormishin has spent the majority of his playing career in his home country Russia, turning up for the likes of Spartak Moskow II and Arsenal 2 Tula. The Russian will be a vital cog in the Club Eagles’ wheels against Bengaluru FC considering the importance of the match.

Egyptian Mahmoud will marshal the home team defence and he was a key player in his side maintaining a clean sheet against Thimphu City FC last month.

Bengaluru FC will have to be wary of Club Eagles having lost to another Maldivian club, Maziya Sports and Recreation, in the AFC Cup play-off last year.

And with Club Eagles head coach Mohamed Shaazly saying that he is eyeing “nothing less than a place in the group stage of the AFC Cup”, the Marco Pezzaiuoli-coached Bengaluru FC will have to guard against complacency.

Pezzaiuoli said that while the immediate focus was to get past the Club Eagles challenge, he is looking ahead to the new ISL season.

“Of course, the focus is on the match (in Maldives) but I want to see a better team for the new (ISL) season. Now for me, it’s like a pre-season, and I will take every minute with the team,” the German tactician said.