AFC Cup: Gokulam Kerala upbeat ahead of Maziya clash

Gokulam Kerala announced its arrival ni AFC Cup beating local favourite ATK Mohun Bagan 4-2 to take the pole position in group D ahead of Bashundhara Kings on goal difference.

Luka Majcen (99 - left), who was its top goal-scorer with 13 to his kitty in the I-League, showed ominous signs with a brace and the Slovenian centre-forward will again be a vital cog in its attack.   -  Debasish Bhaduri

Fresh from making a memorable debut in the AFC Cup, Gokulam Kerala FC sought to build on the momentum as it prepared to take on the Maldives premier league champion Maziya S&RC in the second match of group D league of the continental competition, which comes up at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday evening.

Having produced a convincing 4-2 win against the Indian Super League giant ATK Mohun Bagan in the opening match, the Calicut-based side looked to give credence to its achievement by continuing its winning run.

“We have succeeded in showing a different brand of football where we attack and try to dominate the attacking zone. We just need to keep our focus intact and play our own style to keep moving ahead in the tournament,” said the Gokulam FC head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese.

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The Italian gaffer seemed to be a bit worried with the lucrative offers his young recruits have started receiving after the “historic” win against Mohun Bagan.

“I have been telling our young and talented players that the next game is the one that can change their careers forever. It is important that they keep their focus and think only about the next game,” Annese said.

The Calicut-based side, which lifted the I-League by just losing one match in 18 rounds, can almost ensure a passage to the inter-zone semifinals of the AFC Cup if the local talents like Rishad, Emil Benny, Jithin, Sreekuttan, Alex Saji are able to recreate the form and coordination with the foreign recruits like Jourdain Fletcher, Luka Majcen and Bouba Aminou.

“Gokulam Kerala has developed its own style. We play a kind of attacking football that has not been seen in many years in India. I don’t want to be arrogant but our style is distinctive. We have shown that tactical discipline and the winning mentality where all our 10 players on the ground have the ability to score,” Annese said about his side that he has been coaching with a lot of success for the past two seasons.

Maziya S&RC’s Serbian head coach Miodrag Jesic said his team is hopeful of bouncing back against Gokulam Kerala.

“We are expecting a very tough match tomorrow against a side that is in good form. But we will try to win. I think we played a good game against Bashundhara in the first match but what we need to do against Gokulam is minimise our mistakes and convert our chances, Jesic said.

The other match of the day will see the previous edition’s inter-zone semifinalist, ATK Mohun Bagan making its last bid to prevent an early elimination from the tournament.

The local giant faces the league champion of the neighbouring Bangladesh, Bashundhara Kings in a must-win match. “We learn about points to improve, and against Bashundhara we will try to do our best. I trust my squad and I know they want to do their best. Tomorrow is going to be better than the last match,” ATKMB coach Juan Ferrando said.

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With his key defender Tiri out for months owing to an ACL injury he suffered in last outing against Gokulam, Ferrando hoped to find a proper replacement, which in all likelihood will be the Irish defensive midfielder Carl McHugh.

“We have been unlucky with injuries this season, like Tiri this time. We have a good squad and I trust all the players. We may not be having Tiri but there are other players who can hold the defence in his absence.” the Spanish coach added.

The Bashundhara Kings FC’s Brazilian coach Oscar Bruzon looked at his team’s unbeaten record in the tournament and said that his team is confident of extending the statistic further. “It is a big match in a nice venue. The home team (ATK Mohun Bagan) is desperate for a win. But we will stick to our plan. We will try to be watchful initially and then start playing our own game,” Bruzon siad.

Saturday's fixture:

Group D (round II): 1. ATK Mohun Bagan vs Bashundhara Kings - 4.30 pm. 2. Maziya S&RC vs Gokulam Kerala FC - 8.30 pm.

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