Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez believes the game against ATK Mohun Bagan will be decided by fine margins as the two sides faceoff in the Hero Club Playoffs at the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode, Kerala, on Wednesday.

Odisha FC confirmed their entry into the group stage spot of the AFC Cup 2023-24 after securing the first Hero Club Playoffs tie against Gokulam Kerala FC. Meanwhile, the winner of this playoff tie gets a seat in the preliminary round of the continental competition.

The playoff tie will be Marquez’s last game at Hyderabad FC, with the club having confirmed his departure in March. The 55-year-old backed his side to secure the AFC Cup slot, but warned them of an ATK Mohun Bagan side that will be tough to break down.

“Of course, it will be difficult (for Hyderabad FC to secure the AFC berth). We have in front of us a very good and strong team. On the other hand, there is an emotional part, we (Manolo and his backroom staff) leave the club after this game and I think that it will be an emotional game for not only the players and staff, but for everyone connected to the club,” he said in the pre-match press conference. 

The two teams have played out four matches between themselves this season: two in the league stage and two in the semi-finals of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season. Marquez believes there is very little to separate the two sides. 

“Obviously, it’s the last game, not only for ATK Mohun Bagan and Hyderabad FC, but also in the top division of Indian football. It’s true that the last (few) games were equal. In the regular season of the Hero ISL, both teams won one game each, and in the semi-final they won by penalties. The first-leg was equal but I think in the second-leg, they played better than us,” Marquez stated.

The fixture between Hyderabad FC and ATK Mohun Bagan has always been a feisty one. In ten encounters across four seasons, ATK Mohun Bagan hold the upper hand with four wins in comparison to Hyderabad FC’s two wins, while the remaining four have ended in draws.  

“Last season was similar, we played in the semi-finals too. I think I’ve played against ATK Mohun Bagan more times than any other team since I’ve arrived in the Hero ISL. Now with Juan (Ferrando), and earlier with Antonio Lopez Habas, I don’t know how many times I’ve gone up against ATK Mohun Bagan,” Marquez stated.

A win in this Hero Club Playoff contest sees Hyderabad FC join the elite list of ATK Mohun Bagan, Bengaluru FC, and Chennaiyin FC amongst several other Indian clubs to have represented the nation in the continental competition. 

“We know each other very well. Maybe in the regular season they played a more offensive style but now they are very compact in defence. I think both teams conceded very few goals in the league. Even for us, it was very difficult to create chances during the games, even in the game where we won 1-0 (during the league stage in Hyderabad) when Bartholomew Ogbeche scored. Sometimes in football, when you lose something in attack, you win it in defence and vice-versa,” he concluded.