Mohun Bagan Wary Of In-Form Abahani Limited Dhaka In Crucial AFC Cup Clash

Facing challenges of a demanding preseason and a revamped team composition, a rusty Mohun Bagan Super Giant will be wary of in-form Abahani Limited Dhaka when they clash in Kolkata on Tuesday for a spot in the AFC Cup South Zone group berth. The Mariners are in the midst of a hectic preseason where they are also competing in the Durand Cup and in the Calcutta Football League Premier Division. Bagan has assembled a big budget team for the season, and it’s no secret that the AFC Cup takes precedence for the Sanjiv Goenka-owned side.

Except for a 5-0 win over Bangladesh Army FT in the Durand Cup opener where they chose a young, all-Indian lineup with Liston Colaco and Manvir Singh as the only experienced players, Mohun Bagan have struggled to put together their A-game.

The Mariners also saw their eight-match winning streak against arch-rivals East Bengal coming to an end following a 0-1 defeat.

The inclusion of their high-profile foreign signings have not given immediate results as coach Juan Ferrando has struggled to find a perfect balance.

Australian A-League winner Jason Cummings, who played in the 2022 World Cup, has struggled to find his form and create a strong attacking presence upfront.

The lone bright spot has been Anwar Ali, the India centre-back.

Mohun Bagan had Ali’s aerial prowess to thank as the defender grabbed a brace to send his side through to the AFC Cup playoff with a 3-1 win over Machhindra.

Cummings also managed to find the target, which could significantly boost his confidence ahead of facing a stronger opponent in a knockout fixture.

The pressure was evident on the last two season’s Inter-Zone semi-finalists as Ferrando termed it a “final”.

“Tomorrow, it’s like a final. We try to do everything we can, give 100 percent,” he said.

Ferrando admitted that the hectic schedule made it tough for the team to find the balance.

“The hectic schedule makes it difficult to talk about balance. Preseason was difficult, (we) didn’t get a lot of time to work.

“We tried to give our best in every match. We’ll see tomorrow, and then will prepare for the Durand Cup. Some players are playing in the Kolkata league, Durand Cup and AFC Cup.

“Now, we’re thinking only about winning the (AFC Cup) match and then the Durand Cup. After that, we will get time to prepare for the season,” the Spaniard said.

Mohun Bagan had an easy outing against the Mario Lemos-coached side and won 3-1 last season.

But the Dhaka outfit appears to be in superb form, having stitched a four-match winning run that includes a 2-1 victory over Club Eagles of Maldives in the preliminary stage 2.

“Both teams will be playing at the same level. The last match was totally different, the combination was totally different,” Ferrando said.

Ferrando acknowledged that he has to find the perfect balance.

“Every team is thinking about the best lineup. It’s most important to be ready for tomorrow’s match and try to find the best lineup. It’s difficult to say you are completely happy all the time. You have to improve always,” he added. Having learnt from their mistakes, Lemos is keen to give the Mariners a tough fight this time.

“It’s definitely a tough match. Mohun Bagan are a highly skilled and experienced team. We faced them last season and made some mistakes. At the very least, we aim to make the game more competitive compared to last year,” he said.

“Our approach needs to be organised and focused. We must fight, be willing to endure and sacrifice, and then capitalise on our chances,” he said.

Lemos said there was no added pressure on the team ahead of the big match.

“Coming to Kolkata, everyone is happy as the language and food are familiar. There is no added pressure.

“We are content to be here. We hope to manage pressure well and perform strongly,” the Abahani coach added.

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