The Blues’ Man For Many Positions Discusses Preparations, Pyongyang And Past Memories
After battling a tough unit and heavy downpour to beat 4.25 SC 3-0 at the Kanteerava to take a big step toward the AFC Cup inter-zone final, Bengaluru FC are packing their bags to Pyongyang where a tough second leg awaits Albert Roca’s men. With the big game now just a week away, we sat down with arguably the team’s most versatile player in Harmanjot Khabra as he opened up about a host of aspects in a freewheeling chat.
“Our preparations for the game are going on good. It was a very tough game in the first leg at the Kanteerava, but we managed to get a very good result. Now it’s our responsibility to protect this lead in the second leg. In competitions like the AFC Cup, the home and away legs matter a lot and more so when we are at such a crucial stage in the competition,” says the Punjab-born lad, assessing the match and preparations.
While the Blues have played in ten different countries in continental competitions so far, the visit to the Korean peninsula will be a first for any Indian club, and follows the Indian Women’s Team’s recent visit to Pyongyang for the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers. With the conditions set to play their part in the tie, Khabra believes that this game will be an event in its own. “It going to be a massive experience playing the away leg for all the players as the conditions will be so different. The climate is totally different and so will be the artificial surface in the stadium. Their players are much more suited to the surroundings and this is their home advantage. They do have some quality players in the attacking third and we have to be on our toes at all times. A good thing is that we haven’t conceded a goal in the home leg but still we’re working on the few mistakes that we made during the game and want to improve.”
For the record, Khabra was part of the East Bengal side that went all the way to the semifinal of the AFC Cup in 2013 before losing out to eventual champions Kuwait SC. He shares a fond memory of the campaign and believes that moments like these are the ones that make you want more. “Your past experiences on big stages definitely motivate you to go out and do better. When you think about these moments, you always feel special, and want to experience them again and again. Back when I played the semifinal with East Bengal against Kuwait SC, it was a very tough game and a tough result. But when Bengaluru FC became the first Indian team to reach the final of the AFC Cup last year, they totally changed mindsets across the country, not just clubs, but management, administrators, fans, everyone. Now there is a belief that, ‘Yes, we can make it’. I really appreciate the BFC management and the coach’s effort to push us believe that we are capable of it, irrespective of the opponent we face.”
Post the Blues’ exploits in Asia last season, the outspoken Punjabi believes that everyone in India are now taking continental competitions seriously and want to battle with the best in the region. “I’ve played the AFC Cup numerous times and in my experience, initially we were just playing in the competition with no real targets. Our main targets were on the domestic front, where we did pretty well. Now we are really serious about continental competitions thanks to the support we receive at the club. Given that Korea DPR played in the 2010 World Cup, and 4.25 SC are the best team in their country, they’re no pushovers. However, we have the belief and the result we achieved in the first leg proves that we are on the right path when it comes to Indian football’s development and we should appreciate the efforts of the club’s management and the players who have been working really hard. We have a great atmosphere and bonding in the dressing room, which helps us fight for each other,” he added.
One thing that has been talked a lot in recent times is the new look squad which was formed during the ISL Draft and Khabra is doing his bit to help everyone feel comfortable, “Settling into a new team is no easy job. When I first came here, it was difficult for me as well. But the players who were already part of the club back then, helped me a lot and we gelled in really fast. I never felt that I was a new member in the squad. Similarly, it’s now our responsibility to help the new faces in the team feel comfortable and settle in. All our players have achieved a lot with the previous teams and do bring in some strengths. As they settle in, their strengths will benefit us as a team and that’s what everyone wants. I think we are working really hard during our training sessions and making progress every day, so that’s a big plus.”