Covid-hit Bengaluru FC have task cut out against Tribhuvan Army FC

Bambolim (Goa), April 9 (IANS) Hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, Bengaluru FC will have their task cut out when they take on Nepal club, Tribhuvan Army FC, in the AFC Cup Qualifiers (Preliminary Stage Two) at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim on April 14.

The Nepal outfit defeated Sri Lanka Police SC 5-1 late on Wednesday to set up a clash with the Sunil Chhetri-led team, which recently announced that three of its players had tested Covid positive.

Nawayug Shrestha scored a brace, while Santosh Tamang, Tanka Basnet and Sudil Rai scored one goal each to complete the rout for the Nepalese club.

Also known as the Nepal Army Club, Tribhuvan Army FC is one of the country’s top-flight clubs and, in sharp contrast to Bengaluru FC which has several foreign players in its ranks, Tribhuvan Army FC has none.

It’s sheer luck that Tribhuvan Army FC made it this far in the AFC tournament as, after the 2019-20 champions Machhindra Football Club failed to get their AFC club licence, the second-placed club made it to the AFC Cup Preliminary Round 1 clash against the Sri Lankan club.

Bengaluru FC might not have an easy outing against the Nepal club as it has some good players who have served the team well over the years. Their 31-year-old forward, Nawayug Shrestha, was the top scorer in the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in 2016, which Nepal won. The same year, he was also part of the side that won the AFC Solidarity Cup. The team’s other key striker, skipper Bharat Khawas, is a veteran of several big contests.

Their 41-year-old head coach, Nabin Neupane, marshalled his boys well in the game against Sri Lanka Police SC on Wednesday, but against Bengaluru FC, a top Indian Super League (ISL) club, he and his players will have to do a lot more to achieve a favourable result.

Bengaluru FC is so packed with stars that Spanish midfielder Dimas Delgado failed to find a place in the Marco Pezzaiuoli-coached outfit.

“Feeling sad to not make the final list to play the AFC Cup…I pushed myself hard to make it, but the club has taken the decision to not pick me, and it’s one I respect,” Delgado wrote on Twitter. Besides their charismatic skipper Chhetri, the team will rely on four foreign recruits — Juanan Gonzalez, Erik Paartalu, Cleiton Silva and Gabonese defender Yrondu Musavu-King — for a favourable result.

The winner of the contest will be placed in Group D (South Zone) of the AFC Cup 2021 alongside ATK Mohun Bagan, Bangladesh’s Basundhara Kings and Maldives’ Maziya S&RC.