By Kaustav Bera
Churchill Brothers made it into the AFC Cup after Dempo SC had pulled out from participating in the continental competition, citing too many injuries and disruptive scheduling which would hurt their I-League chances.
The Goans are going great guns in this year's I-League, sitting pretty at 2nd in the table, one point off leaders East Bengal but with two games in hand. They have every chance to make the I-League their own. Primary to their devastating league form have been their foreigners this season, especially the Lebanese duo of Bilal Najjarine and Akram Moghrabi who had complemented skipper Beto, perfectly.
However both the Lebanese players have departed the club and Churchill have some work to do, in order to replicate their early season form, in the second half of the season. Mariano Dias though has shown through the replacements he has signed, that he means business. They have recruited defender Lamine Tamba and forward Balal Arezou for the team, but the surprise transfer has been the signing of India skipper and No. 1 striker, Sunil Chhetri on season long loan from Sporting CP.
Under their Technical Director Subash Bhowmick, who took East Bengal to their only continental victory in winning the ASEAN Cup, Churchill have a shrewd tactician at the helm to engineer a great AFC Cup journey and hopefully put an end to India's dismal showing in the competition.
Goal.com has a look at Hong Kong based Kitchee SC, who are their group rivals.
Kitchee are one of those sides that love playing football, the 'way it is meant to be played', with the ball kept on the ground and complete with short and fluid one touch passes, which was of course popularized in recent times by the FC Barcelona side and the Spanish national team. With Kitchee trying to emulate their much vaunted European counterparts, they are aptly referred to as 'Hong Kong Barcelona'.
Their coach, Josep Gombau too has a huge role to play in this, as he was part of the coaching staff at the Catalan giants before joining the Hong Kong champions. With Kitchee taking part in a lot of friendlies, especially against European opposition, the likes of Arsenal and AC Milan particularly, they have demonstrated that they can stand up to the very best and still hold their own style of play.
Last season they were so effective and dominating that they had completed the domestic treble in Hong Kong, winning the League, FA Cup and League Cup with ease and had made it to the last 16 of the AFC Cup. This time they will hope to do better in the continental competition.
The tiresome and frankly ridiculous scheduling of their AFC Cup match may as well hurt Kitchee's performance. They have already played a match two and a half days before taking on Churchill Brothers, as they defeated Tuen Mun SA by 2 goals.
Thus they will find it pretty difficult to face up to Churchill Brothers so soon as they would need to adjust to vastly different tactics. However Josep Gombau did rest some of his key players who should be fresh for the game.
Treble winners last time around, Kitchee haven't been in the best of form this season as they trail leaders, South China by a massive 7 points, with 6 rounds still left to be played.
Kitchee has already lost twice this season, as compared to South China, who are still unbeaten. However a good showing at the AFC Cup might as well spur them on to win the League after all.
|BEST AFC CUP PERFORMANCE
Kitchee have previously played in the AFC Cup twice, in 2008 and 2012. While they finished third in their group in the inaugral season, they had vastly improved last time around progressing to the Round of 16, only to be knocked out by Indonesia's Arema FC.
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