Stags to face Bengaluru in an empty stadium

Tampines coach Akbar Nawas (above) says that his team have not been distracted ahead of their AFC Cup quarter-final first leg match in Bangalore. Violent protests and riots have rocked the Indian City this week, forcing the team to train in their hotel on
Tampines coach Akbar Nawas (above) says that his team have not been distracted ahead of their AFC Cup quarter-final first leg match in Bangalore. Violent protests and riots have rocked the Indian City this week, forcing the team to train in their hotel on Monday. TNP FILE PHOTO

Tampines Rovers will play their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup quarter-final first leg clash against Bengaluru FC today in Bangalore behind closed doors.

This decision was made yesterday evening, and it comes after violent protests and riots that have rocked the Indian city this week.

The kick-off time of the match, originally scheduled for 7pm local time (9.30pm Singapore time) has been shifted to 4pm local time.

Despite the late changes, Tampines coach Akbar Nawas was relieved that the match will go on as planned.

He said: "We are all relieved. You can see it in the players' eyes that they are all eager to play the game. They all want to bounce back after the defeat to Home (United) last Saturday (in an S-League match)."

Since arriving in Bangalore on Monday, the Stags have been hit by distractions that threatened to unsettle them ahead of the match.

On Monday, the S-League team's training sessions were confined within the hotel's premises. They used the hotel's parking area and the gym, as they were advised to cancel their training session at Bangalore Football Stadium to ensure the safety of the squad.

Some areas of the city are under a police curfew, while thousands of policemen have been deployed to guard and patrol the streets. Many schools and offices were shut and group gatherings in public areas are banned.

But Akbar insisted that his team's preparations were not affected by the unrest, as they could train at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, the venue for the match, yesterday.

He said: "These distractions were minor. Our preparations were not at all affected by what's been going on. Yesterday, we were able to do our recovery well in the gym."

Playing in front of empty stands could also work in the visitors' favour, as they would not have to face an intimidating partisan crowd.

However, Akbar played down any advantage for his players.

He said: "I'm not sure how much homeground support will help them (Bengaluru). I don't even think about it, I just want us to focus on our game."

He is also wary of his counterpart Albert Roca, a former assistant coach at Spanish giants Barcelona from 2003 to 2008.

Akbar said: "They have a new coach who could set up (the team) differently. We've got to be tactically smart in how we set ourselves up, which depends on the first 10 to 15 minutes of the game."

Roca will be eager to win in his first competitive game in charge since joining the Indian side in late July.

Said the Spaniard at a press conference: "Six weeks may not be much, but it's enough to be sure about our qualities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'Stags to face Bengaluru in an empty stadium'. Print Edition | Subscribe