ATK-Mohun Bagan will be up against former AFC Cup champions Nasaf FC in the inter-zonal semi-final match on Wednesday evening. The Indian club, progressing to the semi-final stages for the first time ever, will be missing out their star midfielder Hugo Boumous owing to injury issues.
On the cusp of playing one of their biggest ever matches ever, ATK-Mohun Bagan needs to step up the peddle like never before to stand a chance against Uzbekistan-based Nasaf FC in the AFC Cup Inter-zonal semi-final clash on Wednesday evening.
It’s not that the ‘Mariners’ don’t have quality players to see them through, but the battle ahead is not of the magnitude they’re used to – it’s quite monumental. The psychological edge of having won the AFC Cup before is bound to give Nasaf FC a head-start, a gap that ATK-Mohun Bagan can only bridge by matching the class on the given day.
Antonio Lopez Habas would have been more comfortable if they had fled to Qarshi, a southern city in Uzbekistan, with a certain Hugo Boumous in their ranks, but injury concerns have not made that possible. It would be childish to expect 2020 Euro star Joni Kauko to fill in the shoes with equal competence on his debut, but keeping the playmaking zone active is definitely on the cards.
However, the gap between the midfield and the defence, an area that can make or break a team in the context of a football game, will be controlled by Deepak Tangri, a player who has been so impressive this season. There’s no need to brief Roy Krishna and David Williams’ role – they’ll do what they are good at – try to score goals. Not to forget the ever-determined – Manvir Singh and Liston Colaco breathing on the necks from their respective wings.
Self-explanatory, the balance in the Bagan side is enviable. But, what might bother them to a little annoying level is – stage fright. We have seen them almost stumble against the 10-man Basundhara Kings in the last group stage clash but still managed to escape. Complacency would be the last thing the Indian club can afford at this stage.
Yet, the back-four, led by Carl McHugh, along with the Indian duo of Pritam Kotal and Subhashish Bose, will be solely responsible for how the game turns out and how much time the forwards are left with, to net the all-important goals. After all, it’s hard to find a replacement for Sandesh Jhinghan!
I would not mind putting his name for the ‘N’th time in this category cause if ATK-Mohun Bagan are to progress to the next round, the Fijian has to fire. In fact, he is the only player to have featured in the top-division continental meet, having won the OFC Champions League Waitakere United back in 2007-08. Even if we take that equation out, the striker has been prolific throughout his career, especially for Wellington Phoenix in the A-League - one of the most elite leagues under the AFC. Even his exploits for ATK-Mohun Bagan in the past two seasons were enough to document the quality he possessed. Even though he’s already scored twice in the group stages, Roy Krishna is yet to unleash his best.
ATK-Mohun Bagan squad for AFC Cup Inter-zonal semi-final match:
Goalkeepers -Amrinder Singh, Avilash Paul, Arsh Anwer;
Defenders - Pritam Kotal, Ashutosh Mehta, Carl McHugh, Subhasish Bose, Sumit Rathi;
Midfielders - Joni Kauko, Lenny Rodrigues, Liston Colaco, Prabir Das, M. Soosairaj, Bidyananda Singh, Engson Singh, Sekh Sahil, Ravi Bahadur Rana, Abhishek Dhananjay;
Forwards - Roy Krishna, David Williams, Manvir Singh, Kiyan Nassiri.
It’s been a smooth ride for Nasaf FC till now, having won each of their matches so far in the AFC Cup, more importantly, they have scored 12 goals in 4 matches and conceded just 2, which documents the red hot form they’re in. Even the 3-2 win over FK Ahal in the intermediate stage apparently seemed like a close encounter, the stats were heavily stacked in favour, summing up a dominating performance from the Uzbek side. Even in the Uzbekistan Professional League, they are at the fourth position this season, having finished as the runners-up in the previous edition.
With the likes of Serbian Andrija Kaludjerovic in the centre-forward position along with local boy Khushayin Norchayev, their attacking line is more than potent on paper. On the other hand, Marco Stanojevic holds the key in their midfield position. Lastly, the four-man Uzbek defence has been compact as ever, having shipped in just one goal from open play in the entire tournament so far!
The Uzbek scored in three out of his four matches in the AFC Cup this season, making him the numero uno strike-man for the side. Even in the league, he’s been top-notch, having netted eight times and assisted on two occasions. Even at the age of 19, the forward has shown signs of maturity which can excel him at the continental stage. With him likely to start off against ATK-Mohun Bagan, the defenders of the Indian club need to be sure-footed and alert to keep him in check, on Wednesday.
ATK-Mohun Bagan vs Nasaf FC (Match Details)
Match Date: 22-09-2021
Venue: Markaziy Stadium, Qarshi
Time: 8:30 PM IST
Telecast: Star Sports 2/ Star Sports 2 HD, Star Sports 3 (For regional commentary)