AFC Cup: Permutations hold key as Gokulam Kerala, ATK Mohun Bagan aim qualification

Gokulam Kerala and ATK Mohun Bagan head into the final round of Group D with a chance of progressing into the inter-zonal semifinals.

Gokulam Kerala beat ATK Mohun Bagan in the opening match day of Group D.   -  PTI

Statistics will be the key factor determining the on-field results when the opponents gear up for the final round’s action in the group D league of AFC Cup, at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Tuesday.

Gokulam Kerala FC, the I-League champion and the surprise package of the group, can progress to the next stage – the inter-zonal semifinals – if it manages to beat the Bangladesh league winner Bashundhara Kings. Similarly, the other Indian outfit, ATK Mohun Bagan, needs to beat the Maldives champion Maziya S&RC in the second match to brighten its chances of reaching the inter-zonal for the second successive season.

Here comes the tricky part. As things stand at the end of the second round, all the four teams are tied on three points having won a match each. Although a head-to-head result will be applied as the first consideration to break the tie, this will happen only when two teams are deadlocked on points. In case of a four-way tie, with both the matches ending in a draw, goal difference comes in the count and that is keeping ATK Mohun Bagan as the current group leader with a goal difference of plus two. Gokulam Kerala is second (+1) while Maziya (0) and Bashundhara (-3) occupy the last two spots.

Gokulam Kerala, which plays the first match in the afternoon, needs to win its match while hoping that ATK Mohun Bagan does not lose to Maziya in the other match. In the second scenario, both Gokulam and Maziya will be tied on points and the latter will qualify on having beaten the former 1-0 (head-to-head) earlier in the league. Similarly ATKMB will be hoping Gokulam does not win as it has an adverse record against the latter, having lost 2-4 on matchday one.

In all, the final round turns out to be a complex case of permutations and combinations where all the teams will be looking for a win while expecting the team with a better head-to-head ratio to lose in the other match.

Gokulam Kerala head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese hoped his team will get back the winning rhythm against Basundhara. The loss against Maziya in the previous round has diminished GKFC’s chances but Annese hoped his players will regain the form that helped it beat ATKMB 4-2 in the first round.

“We were fatigued against both ATKMB and Maziya. In the next game we need to start with a different approach seeing that we have enough rest. Our mentality must be attacking from the start and we need to create space and play the ball forward,” Annese said.

“A lot of my players are finishing their contract terms so we are extremely motivated to give everything we have in the final group game,” he added

Bashundhara head coach Oscar Bruzon also wanted his team to rebound from the 0-4 loss it suffered in the second round against ATKMB. “We know that despite the mistakes we made in the last game we still have a fighting chance. We know what we have to do and will play with confidence,” Bruzon said.

The ATK Mohun Bagan coach, Juan Ferrando, hoped his team would continue with the rhythm that helped it beat Bashundhara in the previous game and stay in the competition. “It is a big opportunity for us to enter the next round. The players are tired but our target remains to get three points,” Ferrando said.

"We are professionals and need to concentrate on the new plan for Maziya, and we don’t want to focus on the result of the first game of the day,” he added.

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