ATK Mohun Bagan qualified for the Inter-Zonal Semi-Finals of the ongoing AFC Cup 2022 following a 5-2 win over Maldives-based Maziya S&RC at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.

The Mariners topped the group with six points from three matches as they edged past Bangladesh’s Bashundhara Kings by virtue of superior goal difference and a head-to-head record after being tied on similar points.

Despite a loss against Indian counterparts Gokulam Kerala FC in the opening game, the Kolkata giants never lost hope, as they struck back at critics with two big wins, scoring nine goals in the process. For the time being, the preparations are in full swing for the Inter-Zonal Semi-Finals, with the opponent and date yet to be revealed.

It was at a similar stage where ATK Mohun Bagan were ousted in the previous edition of the continental event, after a heavy loss to FC Nasaf. With still more than two months left for the big clash, head coach Juan Ferrando has loads of time to work on the team and shape it up in the best possible way.

With primary hurdle crossed in the the AFC Cup 2022, let us have a look at the ATK Mohun Bagan’s takeaways from the group stages:

Depth in the final third

The loss in the opening game had already put ATK Mohun Bagan’s chances of qualifying in jeopardy, but with the star-studded line-up at their disposal, there was always hope. Back against the wall, Juan Ferrando’s boys put up their best show, as their midfielders combined in tandem with the forwards and scored goals with ease.

Joni Kauko, in the absence of Hugo Boumous was the centrepiece of all ATK Mohun Bagan attacks, as he orchestrated from critical positions and provided through balls up-front. Liston Colaco, David Williams and Roy Krishna did what they do best - score. Even though Manvir Singh failed to find the back of the net in the group stages, he provided ample support.

Colaco has been phenomenal in the AFC Cup 2022, and is currently the top scorer with four strikes from three matches, while Williams’ tally reads three from as many games. Krishna has scored once so far. The purple patch of the strikers will surely boost their confidence as they enter the knockout stages of the tournament.

Vulnerability while defending on the counter

Powerful performances in the final two group stage matches eventually proved enough for the Mariners to qualify for the Inter-Zonal Semi-Finals, but Ferrando will have work to do ahead of the next stage. The disappointing 2-4 loss to fellow Indian club Gokulam Kerala FC was a testament to the vulnerability of the Mariners while defending on the counter-attack.

Usually comfortable with the ball at their feet, the ATK Mohun Bagan back-line was often caught napping while the opposition sparked up speedy moves against the run of play. The four goals conceded against Gokulam Kerala FC was mainly due to their inability to absorb the sudden pressure, coupled with the unavailability of Tiri after he was injured.

Despite a big win over Maziya S&RC in the final group stage game, ATK Mohun Bagan failed to tape their usual leak, as they shipped in a couple of goals from counter attacks. Going forward, the Hero ISL side will be facing stronger teams in the AFC Cup, where these errors can have drastic effects on their fortunes.

Also Read: We answered the critics by playing good football: ATK Mohun Bagan FC’s Juan Ferrando

Sticking to the plan throughout

Apart from defensive lapses, ATK Mohun Bagan have been a well disciplined side, with them hardly deviating from their game plan. In accordance with the possession-based football Ferrando likes to play with, it demands the players to keep their shape intact, and till now, his wards have not let him down.

While the Spanish coach might have used different formations in the matches, they have stuck to the plan. The back-four have done fairly well, with the central midfielders doing an exceptional job in maintaining the fluidity, especially Carl McHugh, Deepak Tangri and Lenny Rodigues.

The holding midfielders allowed Joni Kauko to advance freely and exploit spaces from the playmaking zone, which often ended up in goal-scoring chances. It will be very difficult to maintain the same tempo in the Inter-Zonal Semi-Finals, where they are set to face-off against tougher opponents, but given the way they have operated, it ignites high hopes.