ATK Mohun Bagan players are oozing confidence ahead of their 2022 AFC Cup group stage matches to be played at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata later this month.

The Mariners swept past Sri Lanka’s Blue Star SC and Bangladesh’s Abahani Dhaka Limited in the qualification rounds earlier to compete in Group D of the main event, which also comprises Gokulam Kerala FC (India), Basundhara Kings (Bangladesh) and Maziya S&RC (Maldives).

The Mariners are training in Kolkata currently, ahead of the first match, which kicks-off on May 18. The Juan Ferrando-led squad will face Gokulam Kerala in their opening game, followed by the Basundhara Kings fixture three days later, and will lock horns with Maziya S&RC in the final group stage match on May 24.

Hugo Boumous, who played some phenomenal football in the qualifiers, feels that the preparations have been better this term compared to the last campaign. He feels that Basundhara Kings is their toughest opponent in the group, but as per their strength, ATK Mohun Bagan should qualify for the next round.

“Looking at the overall group strength-wise, we are the best team. If there’s no big upset down the road, we are going to top the group. The preparations have been relatively better compared to the previous season, we have won the last two practice matches and scored a total of eight goals. So, if we don’t qualify for the next round, we cannot give any excuses,” said Hugo Boumous, as per a club statement.

“We have seen video clips of the teams we are going to face. I feel that Basudhara Kings is the toughest of the three teams we are going to face, they are very balanced. After them, come Gokulam Kerala FC, who have played sensational football in the I-League last season and the current season. But, with the strength we have, we should not only be defeating Gokulam Kerala FC, but all the teams.”

ATK Mohun Bagan topped the group during the 2021 AFC Cup, but lost out 0-6 to Uzbekistan’s FC Nasaf in the inter-zone play-off semi-finals, bringing their run to a halt.

Euro 2020 star Joni Kauko is not pondering too much about their opponents, and feels the players should be focused on their game.

“Even before I played the Euro 2020, I did not think much about the opponents, nor did I watch any clippings. I haven’t seen videos of the teams we are going to face in the AFC Cup either. I feel stressing too much on the opponents creates an unnecessary pressure on the players, which hampers the normal rhythm of the game. Anyway, the coach starts working according to the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent three days prior to the matchday, I will get a hold of the situation then,” quipped Joni Kauko.

Despite qualifying for the semi-finals in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), ATK Mohun Bagan failed to make it to the summit clash, losing to Hyderabad FC over a two-legged fixture. However, they are braced up for a successful campaign in the continental event. Veteran defender Pritam Kotal threw light regarding the change in their playing style, which the players have mastered quite recently.

“We are playing with a new strategy, which is the reason for the changed playing style of the team. We have grasped the new style towards the end of the Hero ISL 2021-22 and the AFC Cup qualifiers. Now, the head coach will get us through the video sessions. But, we should not take any team lightly in the group stages. Gokulam Kerala is playing very well. We could not defeat Basundhara Kings in the previous season, it ended in a draw. We scored three goals after conceding one against Maziya FC the previous season,” said Pritam Kotal.

“Our first target is to be the group champions, that is why our preparations had started so early. The fans will roar from the stands, it will be an added advantage. They cheer for the players, which gives us an added push to win matches. Hoping that the fans will be treated with entertaining football from the first match itself. “