Kolkata: A depleted East Bengal will face a stern test when they take on last year's semifinalists Kitchee to begin their home leg in the group F of the AFC Cup football tournament at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan here on Tuesday.
The I-League runners up will not get the services of four of their star players who are doing national duty for the upcoming home (March 12) and away (March 17) matches against Nepal in the Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1 for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
While Arnab Mondal, Saumik Dey, Lalrindika Ralte and Cavin Lobo are in the senior camp in Guwahati, Abhishek Das is in the Under-23 camp.
East Bengal coach Eelco Schattorie has a big problem to tackle especially in his defence and midfield.
The Dutchman, who had replaced Armando Colaco last month as a coach, had begun his East Bengal stint with a 1-4 thrashing of Johor Darul Ta'Zim in Johor Bahru.
Ranti Martins' five-goal blitz saw East Bengal rout Dempo 5-1 earlier this month and the ace Nigerian will play a key role when they face the Hong Kong giants, who will also be tested on the artificial surface at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan.
"We've seen (against Dempo) how dangerous he can be in the videos. East Bengal have a formidable striking line-up and we cannot afford to underestimate them on their home surface," Kitchee head coach Jose Francisco Molina Jimenez told reporters.
While Martins is on a song, his striking partner Dudu Omagbemi is yet to hit purple patch and his form will be a cause of concern for Schattorie, who rued the absence of his creative midfielder Ralte.
Terming Kitchee as the best side in the group, Schattorie said: "They play with a 4-3-3 formation, a bit defensive but we have to find ways to feed our strikers."
Kitchee blanked Balestier Khalsa FC 3-0 to kick off their AFC Cup campaign as they lead the table in group F.
Spanish recruit Jordi Tarres Paramo and Xu Deshuai, both of whom scored a goal each in their win, will be their main marksmen as East Bengal will have a tough battle in the offing.