ATK Mohun Bagan is seeking to focus on continental glory after finishing a moderately successful campaign in the country’s top league – ISL – barely a few weeks ago.
As a first step in its continental club campaign, the ATKMB faces the Sri Lankan super league topper Blue Star SC in the first round of the AFC Cup preliminaries at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday. This will be the first match post-pandemic when the Mohun Bagan fans gain entry in the stadium to cheer for their side.
Given the conditions and the state of the opposition, the ATKMB is expected to have a smooth sailing to the play-offs, which is the final stage before it qualifies to the group stage.
Having reached the quarterfinals in its last AFC Cup appearance last year, the ATKMB camp is gearing up for a comparatively better showing this time. “After the disappointing ISL season, it is our chance to show that we can do it. We will give our best and I hope we will do much better in this competition,” said Joni Kauko, the Finland midfielder and key player in the ATKMB’s plan of action.
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The ATKMB squad may have a few absentees like injured defender Sandesh Jhingan and the Irish midfielder Carl McHugh.
Even forward Roy Krishna is doubtful for some personal reasons but the player has not been ruled out if head coach Juan Ferrando has to be believed. “It won’t be an easy match as it is 90 minutes in international competition and the opponent is coming after winning against the Nepal team (Machhindra FC). We had lost the semifinals (of ISL) but we have good players and will be ready for the next challenge,” Frerrando said.
Blue Star SC is also riddled with injury problems and will be missing some of its regulars including one foreigner, announced coach Banda Samarakoon. "We won in Nepal and are looking forward to more good results in international matches. We have a side that is good technically and tactically and we are ready for the challenge," Samarakoon said.