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Bangalore: The identity of Air Force Club’s opponents in the 2017 AFC Cup final will be decided on Wednesday with last year’s runners-up JSW Bengaluru taking on 2015 finalists FC Istiklol in the second leg of the Inter-Zone final with the tie poised on a knife edge after the Tajik side’s narrow 1-0 win in the first meeting last month.

Dmitry Barkov’s goal was the difference between the sides in Hisor, but there still is all to play for at Sree Kanteerava Stadium with JSW Bengaluru hoping to overturn the slim deficit and go on to a chance for redemption against Air Force Club, the team that defeated them in last year’s continental climax.


JSW Bengaluru

Having made history last year as the first side from India to reach a continental club final, JSW Bengaluru could be on the verge of repeating that feat, but they will need to deny FC Istiklol, unbeaten in the 2017 edition, their own dreams of a return to the AFC Cup’s showpiece event.

Barkov’s first leg header does mean the onus is on the I-League club to attack but they will be bolstered in the knowledge that at home they are a match for any side.

Indeed, they are unbeaten in Bangalore in the 2017 AFC Cup and are currently on a run of eight continental games unbeaten in India going back to March 2016 and a loss to Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim..

 

Sunil Chhetri remains JSW Bengaluru’s inspirational captain and leads the scoring for his side in the tournament, although he struggled to influence proceedings in the first leg.

Flying winger Udanta Singh and midfielder Lenny Rodrigues can also be relied upon to chip in with goals, while former Western Sydney Wanderers import Dimas Delgado is an important anchor in the centre of the field.


FC Istiklol

After Air Force Club were beaten in the first leg of the West Asia Zonal Final against Al Wahda last month, it is Tajikistan’s FC Istiklol who remain the sole team in this year’s competition to have avoided a single defeat so far.

Not only have they yet to lose in the 2017 AFC Cup, but they have scored the highest number of goals (21) of any team remaining in the competition as well as conceded the joint least (5).

In the knockout stage so far, their record is an impressive goals scored: six, goals conceded: one.

Prolific forward Manuchekhr Dzhalilov has taken most of the attention with his club-leading seven goals in the competition that sees him just two off 4.25 SC’s Kim Yu-song in the race for the 2017 AFC Cup Top Scorer.

However, just as much focus should be given to Dzhalilov’s fellow Tajikistan internationals including Jahongir Aliev and, particularly, midfield playmaker Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev who has created more chances (32) than any other player in this year’s competition.


Ones To Watch: First Leg Stats

Suspensions: Artem Baranovskyi (FC Istiklol)

JSW Bengaluru vs FC Istiklol
Venue: Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bangalore
Kick-off: October 18, 19:00 UTC +5:30

Photos: Lagardère Sports

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