An AFC Cup double header awaits the city of Bhubaneswar, as Odisha FC and Mohun Bagan Super Giant prepare for their matches against Maziya S&RC and Bashundhara Kings, respectively, at the Kalinga Stadium.

Mohun Bagan SG are currently leading Group D of the AFC Cup 2023-24, with six points, having beaten Odisha FC (4-0) and Maziya (2-1), and will look to maintain the momentum ahead of this crucial clash against the champions of Bangladesh.

Head coach Juan Ferrando said, "Maintaining the momentum is of utmost importance to us. All matches in the AFC Cup are difficult, because all the teams that come to this level are the best from their countries.

"We may be ahead, but there's nothing better than three points to put us one step closer to the knockout stage," said Ferrando.

Mohun Bagan SG last faced Bashundhara Kings at the VYBK last year in the AFC Cup, a match that they won 4-0, but the Spaniard opined that the champions of Bangladesh have improved a great deal since then.

“Bashundhara Kings have been improving this season. They have been solid in their domestic league, and have a lot of strong areas, especially their foreign players, who can change the game at any minute,” he said.

The Mohun Bagan head coach mentioned that two of his players are currently carrying injuries – Sumit Rathi, and Ashique Kuruniyan. The Mariners, who generally play their home matches at the VYBK in Kolkata, have shifted base to the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar due to the ongoing festivities of the Durga Puja in their home town. Ferrando feels that it is up to the players to show their professionalism and perform their best, despite the possibility of not having the advantage of home support.

“The boys are professionals. Of course we will miss our fans, but the mentality on the field will be to do our best and get the win. There’s no excuses for us to not do so, and we want to thank Odisha for providing such excellent facilities to us for this match,” said Ferrando.

The Green and Maroons, though on a good run in Asia, last played almost two weeks ago on October 7 against Chennaiyin FC (3-1) in the Indian Super League, but their Albanian forward Armando Sadiku believes that the break gave them a good opportunity to put in some hard training sessions and improve on the pitch.

“Yes, we’ve had a long break due to the international break, but we trained hard everyday, and the team is looking very good. We all take the AFC Cup very seriously, and want to do well here,” said Sadiku. “There’s a good atmosphere in the team, and we are here for the three points.

Bashundhara Kings had faced some issues prior to their arrival in Bhubaneswar, but have finally arrived on the eve of the game, and will be looking to pip their opponents to take the top spot in Group D. the champions of Bangladesh had a hiccup in their first match away at Maziya (1-3) and find themselves in the need of turning things around after a 3-2 win against Odisha.

Odisha FC aim to bounce back 

In the other match of the day, Odisha FC host Maziya S&RC from the Maldives. The Juggernauts have lost both their matches in Group D of the AFC Cup so far, 0-4 against Mohun Bagan SG and 2-3 against Bashundhara Kings, but head coach Sergio Lobera feels that winning the remaining four games in the group will put his side in good stead to finish top and qualify for the knockout stage.

“We have shown a lot of potential in our last match (against Bashundhara Kings). I believe three points in this game will put us back in contention,” he said. “Our target now is to win all the remaining games in the group stage, and I think if we have 12 points, we will be able to make it to the knockout stage.”

Asked about his strategy for the game, Lobera walked the middle path, choosing to stress on the importance of finding the balance.

“We have to try and find the right balance between defence and attack. Our first game (against Mohun Bagan SG) was difficult, especially in the second half. We need to improve our levels in certain sectors, and compete better than we have,” he said.

Speaking about Maziya, Lobera said, “They have a well balanced side, and some fast attacking players. They lost a point in the last minute in their game against Mohun Bagan SG, but they have shown that they are quite comfortable on the ball and have players that know the importance of winning back possession.”

Odisha FC and Maziya S&RC will kick off the first game of the day on Tuesday, October 24, 2023, at 5.30 pm IST at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, while Mohun Bagan SG and Bashundhara Kings will begin their game at 9.30 pm IST at the same venue. Both matches will be broadcast live on Sports 18, and streamed live on Jio Cinema.