AFC Cup: ATKMB get ready for Bashundhara Kings challenge

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Male (Maldives), Aug 24 (IANS) The 2020/21 Indian Super League (ISL) runners-up ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) will look to seal a place in the AFC Cup inter-zone semifinal when they take on Bangladesh’s Bashundhara Kings in their Group D South Zone encounter at the National Football Stadium here later on Tuesday.

ATKMB have been in great form so far and have won both their previous group matches — 2-0 against fellow ISL side Bengaluru FC in their opener and then 3-1 against local side Maziya Sports & Recreation. The win against the Maldives club 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.

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The equation is simple for ATKMB going into the contest — they need only a draw to qualify for the inter-zone semifinal, 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. 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 Bengaluru FC. It was 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 take on the Kings’s challenge.

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Against Maziya, ATKMB looked good in the midfield and upfront but left a lot to be desired in defence. The backline of Carl McHugh, Sumit Rathi and Pritam Kotal particularly struggled for 20 minutes after Maziya’s opener in the first half. ATKMB were lucky not to concede more during that period, and 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 made up for in attack. Hugo Boumous particularly has made the difference. He had a big hand in Krishna and Manvir’s goals on August 21 and even against Bengaluru FC he was inspirational. However, in a big jolt to ATKMB, the Frenchman won’t be available for selection later on Tuesday on account of receiving his second yellow card of the group stage. Colaco looked lively up front in his first start for ATKMB and Habas would hope he continues the good work.

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“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 (Kings) 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.

–IANS

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