ATK Mohun Bagan will be approaching its first major overseas assignment when it takes on FC Nasaf of Uzbekistan at the latter’s home at Markaziy Stadium in Qarshi on Wednesday.
The AFC Cup inter-zonal semifinal, which starts the knock-out stage of the tournament, will be a big task for ATK MB which is returning to competitive football after a prolonged break following the end of the Indian Super League’s seventh season in March.
ATK MB, which is the ISL runner-up, did well in the group league stage of the AFC Cup in August where it maintained an unbeaten record to reach the inter-zonal semifinal. Mohun Bagan coach Antonio Lopez Habas hoped that the team will be showing the right composure against a strong opponent which will have the advantage of playing at home.
ATK MB had a week-long camp in Dubai, where Habas picked up the Finland midfielder Joni Kauko instead of Hugo Boumous to marshal the forces from the centre of the park. The other foreigners – forwards Roy Krishna and David Williams and defender Carl McHugh – remain the same as ATK MB looks to overcome FC Nasaf challenge. M. Soosairaj and Prabir Das, the two wingers, are the two new inclusions in the squad.
“No coach in the world can guarantee 'victory'. Our preparation in Dubai has been quite good. We are optimistic about winning. We also have in our mind that our opponent is a strong team but we have the power to defeat Nasaf,” Habas sounded optimistic on the eve of his team’s semifinal outing.
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Nasaf is match fit, focused and in form. Chasing the trophy, a decade after the club won it in 2011, the settled nature of Ruzikul Berdiev’s outfit is underlined by the fact there are no changes to the squad which successfully navigated the Central Asian Zonal Final last month.
Serbian duo of Marko Stanojevic and Andrija Kaluđerovic -- both goal scorers against Ahal -- may be well known to fans from outside Uzbekistan, but Nasaf’s strength lies in their deep pool of young local talent, with Sherzod Nasruallev, Khusayin Norachaev, Akmal Mozgovoy and Khusniddin Alikulov all under 25, and all influential in the competition so far.
Berdiev’s charges have proved impossible to contain in Asia this season, averaging 67 per cent of possession and 21 shots at goal per outing over its four fixtures and scoring multiple goals in every match.
The match starts at 8.30 pm (IST).
(With inputs from PTI)
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