Bagan take on Maldives in AFC Cup in Guwahati

Despite the disappointment of not being able to advance further in the AFC Champions League qualification round, Mohun Bagan is coming off a splendid run in the I-League. They are atop the leader board and have been unbeaten this season so far.

Mohun Bagan had to play in the AFC Cup, the second tier club competition of the continent, after losing 0-6 against China’s Shandong Luneng in the second round of the qualifiers of the AFC Champions League early this month.   -  G.P. Sampath Kumar

Having failed to make the grade at the top tier Asian Champions League, Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan will begin the AFC Cup football campaign against Maziya Sports and Recreation Club of the Maldives in the side’s home leg match here tomorrow.

Mohun Bagan had to play in the AFC Cup, the second tier club competition of the continent, after losing 0-6 against China’s Shandong Luneng in the second round of the qualifiers of the AFC Champions League early this month.

The reigning I-League champion side are playing at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium here as the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata has been closed down to prepare it for next year’s Under-17 FIFA World Cup and none of the other stadiums nearby are of AFC standards.

In fact, the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium will also host Mohun Bagan’s two other home matches in Group G on March 16 and May 11.

Despite the disappointment of not being able to advance further in the AFC Champions League qualification round, Mohun Bagan is coming off a splendid run in the I-League. They are atop the leader board and have been unbeaten this season so far.

Key player and striker Sony Norde said that the AFC Cup will be the real test for his side.

“AFC Cup will be our real test now after triumphing over the I-League last year,” he said.

Asked which one he would take between a derby (against East Bengal) win or a victory in AFC Cup, Norde said, “I would grab AFC win with both hands. Our supporters are emotionally connected to derby and it draws thousands of supporters to the stadium, but from club vantage point a win in the continent stage is huge. Be it a derby or any other match, we have to play with same intensity.”

On the other hand, Maziya Sports and Recreation is one of Maldives’s most successful sides. They have won the Maldives FA Cup on two occasions — in 2012 and 2014. They have also won the Maldivian FA Charity Shield last year.

The Maldivian side have been regulars in the AFC Cup for the last three seasons though they have always bowed out in the group stages. They do not have the best of memories coming to India, as the side lost to Bengaluru FC 1-2 last year.

Apart from Mohun Bagan, Bengaluru Football Club, the runners-up in I-League last season, will also figure in the tournament in which 32 teams from 27 countries of Asia are participating.

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