Pune FC is keen to log their first win on the continental stage when they face Singapore champions Tampines Rovers FC in an AFC Cup Round-3 encounter at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore on Wednesday.
Two draws in the opening two rounds makes this Group H tie important for third-placed Pune FC (2 points) as qualification to the next round beckons at this turn-off stage of the competition.
However, the game on the morrow will not be an easy one for Pune FC as Tampines are yet to open their account in Group-H and will look to bounce back after two consecutive losses in the previous rounds. The losses were to; Kitchee SC (0-5) at home and to Nay Pyi Taw FC (3-1) away.
Like Pune FC, the hosts were also involved in the AFC Champions League play-offs and suffered a first-round defeat to Hong Kong’s South China (1-2 after extra time) before coming into the AFC Cup
Tampines, who have won the domestic title for the last three years in a row, are making their fourth consecutive and seventh overall appearance in the AFC Cup (2005-07 & 2011-13); with their best ever finish being reaching the quarterfinals in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Nonetheless, Pune FC Coach Mike Snoei is confident going into the game after his side held Kitchee to a draw despite going two goals down in the first half itself in their first-ever overseas game.
The Dutchman was however wary of the artificial turf and speaking at the pre-match Press Conference, he said, “In India it is 50-50; some of the teams in the I-League play on this surface but we play on natural grass, so it is very different for us. But like everything in Singapore, the quality is fantastic and we are looking forward to it.”
On the opponents, Snoei further added, “We were present at the weekend game that featured Tampines Rovers. We’ve seen them play and made our assessments. We are ready for them.”
Having already had three training sessions during a rain-hit weekend, Pune FC can hope for similar cold and damp conditions on matchday with more rain expected throughout the week.
On the team news front, Pune FC has called in the services of experienced defender Othallo Tabia in place of medio Dhanpal Ganesh who serves a one-match suspension for receiving two yellow cards. The defender flew to Singapore couple days back and has been a part of all the training sessions. But Snoei, going by the run his team has, is likely not to be making much changes.
Pune FC is eager to break the sequence of four consecutive draws in all competitions with a first win on foreign soil. But skipper Anas Edathodika expects a cautious approach from the team, “They are a tough lot. The win on the weekend and playing at home should have propped them up. It will be tough. We are ready to give our 100 percent and aim to gain maximum from this game.”
The hosts will be banking heavily on the strike pair of Bosnia-born Singapore international Aleksandar Duric and Serbian Miljan Mrdakovic. For the record, 43-year-old Duric is the only player to have scored more than 300 goals in the S-League and has been the league’s top-scorer on four occasions.
On the other hand, Mrdakovic is in top form having netted four times in three domestic league games this season.
While speaking to the media, Tampines Rovers Coach Salim Moin said, “The belief is always (there); I believe in my players and I believe that they can do better. They know themselves and (regarding) the result, they can get it.”
Moin further added, “Seven days with three matches is quite hectic for the boys but I would say that would not be an excuse and hopefully the players will come back strongly. We will still fight, we will never say die.”
Echoing the same sentiment, skipper Mustafic Fahruddin said, “The players know the importance of the game and are ready for the battle. Playing at home, (we will) try to get the advantage and win and after that everything opens; the group becomes open again.”
The match kicks off at 7.30 PM SLT (5.00 PM IST) on Wednesday. There will be no Live Telecast of the game.
FORM RUN (Last 5 matches / All competitions)
Pune FC (Group-H, 3rd): D-D-D-D-W
Tampines Rovers (Group-H, 4th): W-L-W-L-W