Preview: AFC Cup inter-zone semi-final tantalisingly close as ATK Mohun Bagan get ready for Bashundhara Kings
2020-21 Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) finalists ATK Mohun Bagan look to seal a place in the AFC Cup inter-zone semi-final when they take on Bangladesh’s Bashundhara Kings in their Group D South Zone encounter at the National Football Stadium in Male (Maldives) on Tuesday.
The Mariners have been in flamboyant form so far and have won both their previous group matches, 2-0 against fellow Hero ISL side Bengaluru FC in their opener and then 3-1 against local side Maziya Sports & Recreation. The win against the latter was particularly striking as Antonio Lopez Habas’ men trailed 1-0 at halftime, after which Liston Colaco, Roy Krishna and Manvir Singh scored to help their team really push ahead in the contest.
The equation is simple for the Mariners going into the contest: all they need is a draw to qualify for the inter-zone semi-final having accumulated six points from two games so far. The Kings, on the other hand, are second in the group standings with four points from two games. It may be noted that only the group winners advance to the next round and the rest of the teams get eliminated. Bengaluru FC as well as Maziya are already out of the reckoning.
Bashundhara Kings played 2016 AFC Cup finalists Bengaluru FC in their previous game and the tie ended 0-0. They looked good in patches, however, in the last 20 minutes of the contest they really couldn’t keep up with the quality of the Blues. It was just unfortunate that despite creating many opportunities during that period, Marco Pezzaiuoli’s men couldn’t score. ATK Mohun Bagan would have watched that match closely to figure out how to ambush the Kings.
Against Maziya, ATK Mohun Bagan looked good in the middle of the park and up front but left a lot to be desired in the defence department. The backline of Carl McHugh, Sumit Rathi and Pritam Kotal particularly struggled for 20 minutes or so after Maziya’s opener in the first half. The Mariners were lucky not to concede more during that period, and make no mistake they will have to tighten up a lot more against the Kings. The Bangladeshi club has quality players like Robinho and Raul Becerra in its ranks and both can cause a lot of damage on their day.
But what they lacked in defence, they amply made up for in attack. Hugo Boumous particularly has made the difference. He had a big hand in Krishna and Manvir’s goals on Saturday and even against Bengaluru FC he was inspirational. However, in a big jolt to the Mariners, the Frenchman won’t be available for selection on Tuesday on account of receiving his second yellow card of the group stage. Colaco looked lively up front in his first start for the Mariners and Habas would hope he continues the good work.
When all is said and done, once again the Mariners go into the contest as favourites because of the kind of players they have, however, they will have to be alert all through as one bad moment can undo all their prior good work.
“I don’t like to talk about favourites, because football is full of complications. We have good professional players, very disciplined and tactical on the pitch. They have the opportunity to learn every day and I am happy with the performances of my players,” Habas said ahead of the contest.
“We know them and they are a good team. They are the champions of Bangladesh and we give them maximum respect, and we will have to wait for the match. The most important thing for us is not to concede a goal, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any attacks. We have to find the balance. We know that this is a decisive match and we have to give 100 percent on the pitch,” he added.
ATK Mohun Bagan squad: Arindam Bhattacharja, Amrinder Singh, Pritam Kotal, Lenny Rodrigues, Subhasish Bose, Avilash Paul, Ashutosh Mehta, Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh, Deepak Tangri, Sumit Rathi, SK Sahil, Bidyananda Singh, Abhishek Suryavanshi, Kiyan Nassiri Giri, N Engson Singh, Ricky John Shabong, Roy Krishna and Carl McHugh, David Williams, Hugo Boumous
Kick-off time: 4:30 pm (IST)
Live telecast: Star Sports Network
Streaming: Disney+ Hotstar VIP and JioTV
(Please note that Star Sports 3 will have Bengali commentary in West Bengal and Malayalam commentary in Kerala)