Abu Dhabi: I-League champions Churchill Brothers face a tough task as they aim to become the first
Indian side to qualify for the prestigious AFC Champions
League when they take on UAE`s Al Wahda in the final play-off
match here on Saturday.
Churchill are the second Indian side after their Goan
rivals Dempo to feature in ACL play-off after the continent`s
top flight club competition was revamped last year leading to
"developing" football getting a chance to qualify for it
Dempo lost to Al Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates and
this year Churchill are up against Al Wahda who had earlier
beaten top Syrian side Al Karamah 1-0 in the first round West
Zone play-off match at Homs on February 30.
Churchill will have a tough task at hand to beat Al Wahda
at home as their opponents have qualified four times in the
Asian Champions League, the earlier version of ACL, having
reached the semifinals in 2007.
Coach Carlos Roberto Pereira, who have plied trade for
the top sides in Qatar and even UAE, himself had conceded the
tough task but said his side would be up for the challenge.
Al Wahda are a confident lot having beaten UAE Pro-League
defending champions Al Ahli on Wednesday. The side, coached by
former Austrian World Cupper Josef Hickersberger, have three
Brazillians, who have earlier played for top clubs of their
Brazillian striker Fernando Baiano, who have played for
Flamengo and Fluminense besides in the Spanish La Liga, has
been in great form, setting up the lone goal against Al
Karamah and then scoring against Al Ahli on Wednesday.
In good news for Churchill, the two other Brazillians --
midfielders Luciano da Silva and Marcio Rodrigues Magrao --
have injury concerns. Luciano is nursing an ankle injury while
Magrao apparently injured against Al Ahli on Wednesday.
Fortunately for Churchill, they have come out of the
winless streak in the I-League with their 2-1 win over Goan
rivals Salgaocar. Before that they had not won for two months
since mid-November for five games.
Though playing an away match, Churchill will also feel
home as far as crowd support is concerned as the large number
of Indian expatriates here, including many Goans, will be
cheering for them at the Al Nahyan Stadium.
The talismanic striker and captain Odafe Onyeka Okolie
will play a big role in the match and Pereira expects him to
be his trump card once again in the game which could put
Churchill to history books of Indian football.
"I hope Odafe comes good tomorrow. The plus point is he
is an unknown quantity here and everybody in India knows he is
such a dangerous striker on his day," Pereira said in Goa
before leaving for here.
Some players of the national team, who are reaching Dubai
for a 20-day training camp in preparation for 2011 AFC Asian
Cup, are also expected to cheer Churchill who have India
stopper back Gouramangi Singh in their ranks.