Playing their first match at home in the competition, the Mariners will be keen to get past the Preliminary Stage 1 © Getty Images (Representational Image)
Playing their first match at home in the competition, the Mariners will be keen to get past the Preliminary Stage 1 © Getty Images (Representational Image)

Kolkata: I-League champions Mohun Bagan will look to create history when they take on Singaporean heavyweights Tampines Rovers in the AFC Champions League qualifiers at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan on Wednesday. Playing their first match at home in the competition, the Mariners will be keen to get past the Preliminary Stage 1, something no Indian club has managed to do. Pune FC (in 2014) and Bengaluru FC (in 2015) had made exits at this stage. Having already played three matches in the I-League, Mohun Bagan’s bid will be helped not only by the home condition but for the fact that the Singaporean outfit are coming here on the back of an off-season.

Nicknamed ‘The Stags’, the visiting side are without a silverware for a second season on the trot as their new chairman Krishna Ramachandra has overhauled the club retaining just five players from 2014-15. They have new recruits in last season’s Singaporean top scorer Fazrul Nawaz, seasoned duo of Noh Rahman and Yasir Hanapi, and their top signing of the season in former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant who, however, will miss Wednesday’s game.

“We are missing Jermaine Pennant because he has not been registered in time. Hopefully we can get them later,” Tampines Rovers head coach V Sundramoorthy told a news conference on the eve of the match. On paper, ‘The Stags’ looked a strong side but it remains to be seen how they gel as an unit against a team who have won two matches in the ongoing I-League before a 1-1 draw result against age old rivals East Bengal on Saturday.

Tampines Rovers too have two victories so far — in a pre-season 2-0 win against Hougang United and a 1-0 victory versus Malaysia Premier League side Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) II but they will have to find their feet right. In the absence of Balwant Singh (groin injury), Mohun Bagan will have to bank on the trio of Katsumi Yusa, Sony Norde and Cornell Glen so as to finish the match in regulation time.

Haitian international Norde was marked brilliantly by East Bengal in the I-League derby match as he failed to break free something the Singaporean would be well aware of. India forward Jeje Lalpekhula, who has scored 12 goals in 32 international matches, will also be a vital cog in their attack. “I have seen last three games of Mohun Bagan in the I-League and I have been very impressed by them. They have a good attacking side and good strikers, so it will be a good game,” Sundramoorthy said.

In absence of Pennant, the visitors may go in for 4-5-1 formation with Nawaz as the lone striker and it remains to be seen how the Mohun Bagan’s backline marshalled by Brazilian Luciano Sabrosa pit against the Singaporeans. The winners will travel to Chinese city of Jinan to face Shandong Luneng FC on February 2 in Preliminary Stage 2. Four teams from the Preliminary Stage 2 will play four other sides — already decided — in the East Zone play-off to make the cut for the group stage of the ACL.