Local heavyweights ATK Mohun Bagan will have their task cut out when they face six-time Bangladesh Premier League champions Abahani Limited of Dhaka in the AFC Cup playoff in Kolkata on Tuesday. (More Football News)
The winners of the knockout match will join Gokulam Kerala, Bashundhara Kings (Bangladesh) and Maziya Sports and Recreation (Maldives) in the Group D of the AFC Cup main round beginning May 18.
The Mariners, who made an inter-zone semifinal exit in last season's AFC Cup, had it easy in the preliminary stage and secured a resounding 5-0 win over a weak Blue Star SC of Sri Lanka to make the playoffs.
The Bangladeshi outfit on the other hand made the cut after Club Valencia of Maldives gave a walkover in their preliminary round-two match, in Sylhet on April 12, citing financial crisis. That they're playing at home and coming off after a big win will give the local team a slight edge.
They will also be bolstered by the return of their regular goalkeeper Amrinder Singh, who had to sit out against Blue Star because of a niggle, and midfielder Liston Colaco.
The biggest advantage for ATKMB is that their big signing, Finnish midfielder Joni Kauko, was in his elements scoring a brace against BSC, while Moroccan midfielder Hugo Boumous was sensational with his raids.
Forward Manvir Singh was also among goals and scored a double and the Juan Ferrando-coached side would count on the positives while treating the match like a 'final'.
“It's time to enjoy for the players until tomorrow and for the fans, this will be a good moment but to be honest, this is football and the next match is the next Tuesday. It will be like a final and it's very important for us that we don't forget to focus on the next game,” Ferrando said.
Talking about their opponents, he said: “They are a compact team, they don't play three-four players in the attack... We need to pay attention in pressing as we need to keep the ball and move forward. It's not so easy but we need to work hard to win the next match.”
Euro 2020 recruit Kauko said he's excited to get back his rhythm and was looking forward to the match.
“Before coming to India, I was in two minds whether I could cope with the weather and would be successful in India or not. I may not be at my best at the moment, but slowly getting back my rhythm.
“The first target would be to finish in regulation time, we don't know much about our opponents which is always tricky. I heard they have very good foreigners, it would be a tough contest,” he added.
According to a team official, ATKMB will continue to miss their Fijian star striker Roy Krishna, who has flown back home for personal reasons, while India central defender Sandesh Jhingan is yet to fully recover from his injury.
Coached by Mario Lemos of Portugal, Abahani last played in the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this month and have five foreigners including Costa Rican World-Cupper Daniel Colindres, Brazilian forward Raphael Augusto and Iranian defender Milad Sheykh Soleimani.
Their in-form Brazilian forward Dorielton Gomes, who scored seven goals in the BPL, is down with an injury and it remains to be seen if he's available for the important clash.
According to the local organising committee, 40,000 seats will be available to fill up for the match, up by 7000 since their game against Blue Star. About 25,000 spectators turned up to see their last match here on April 12.