In what is one of the biggest games for Indian football this year, ATK Mohun Bagan is set to fight for a place in the Inter-zonal final of the AFC Cup when they take on Uzbekistani outfit FC Nasaf on Wednesday evening.
Antonio Lopez Habas‘ charges will line up at the Markaziy Stadium knowing that it could turn out to be a long night for them, as Nasaf enter the game as favorites. IFTWC brings you the preview for the much anticipated knockout clash.
ATK Mohun Bagan last kicked a ball when they took on Bangladeshi champions Bashundhara Kings in their last group game of the AFC Cup almost a month ago. Their journey in the competition was characterized by surgical counter-attacks and generally solid defensive performances. The Mariners outclassed Bengaluru and Maziya with scorelines of 2-0 and 3-1 respectively and fought hard to earn a 1-1 draw against the Kings.
The defense did well considering the absence of the talismanic duo Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri at the back. Carl McHugh slotted right into the eleven beside Sumit Rathi and Pritam Kotal. New signings Deepak Tangri, Hugo Boumous, Amrinder Singh, and Liston Colaco all broke into the first team and put on matchwinning performances.
FC Nasaf did not face any serious opposition till they played the Zonal Finals against Turkmenistan side FC Ahal, whom they toiled to beat 3-2 in a dramatic affair. In the group stage, the Dragons dismantled their opponents, scoring 9 goals and conceding none in 3 games.
Nasaf sits fourth in the ongoing Uzbekistani top division, having scored 27 goals in 18 matches, the third-highest in the league. Khuisain Norchaev is the side’s top scorer in the league with 8 goals and in the AFC Cup with 3.
ATK Mohun Bagan will be without two of their top performers in the competition – Hugo Boumous and Deepak Tangri. Boumous has been omitted from the squad owing to an injury whereas the latter is suspended after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage. Finnish international Joni Kauko made the squad and so did wingbacks Prabir Das and Soosairaj Michael. Ricky Shabong was dropped and young gun Ravi Rana made the trip to Qarshi.
The Dragons have an unchanged squad going into the game.
FC Nasaf – Umid Ergashev(GK), Dilshod Saitov, Umar Eshmuradov(C), Husniddin Alikulov, Sherzod Nasrullaev, Bakhrom Abdurakhimov, Akmal Mozgovoy, Marko Stanojević, Oybek Bozorov, Khuisain Norchaev, Andrija Kaluđerović.
ATK Mohun Bagan – Amrinder Singh(GK), Subhasish Bose, Pritam Kotal, Carl McHugh, Ashutosh Mehta, Manvir Singh, Lenny Rodrigues, Joni Kauko, Liston Colaco, David Williams, Roy Krishna(C).
Bagan will have to grit their teeth and defend deep, their only potential attacking outlets being the counters, something that Habas and his men are known to do time and again to grind out results. The Mariners averaged less than 50% possession in the competition whereas the Dragons averaged an impeccable 67%.
Nasaf’s match fitness really gives them the upper hand as they will be looking for an early goal to kill the game as soon as possible. However, if they do not break the deadlock early, Habas’ charges will grow into the game with their counters as the Dragons’ defense tires. Extra time and penalties could very well be on the cards.
In a game that is set to be played out predictably, it is Habas’ men and their never-say-die attitude that makes this an exhilarating encounter.
Match Date – 22nd September 2021 (Wednesday)
Time – 20:30 IST
Venue – Markaziy Stadium, Qarshi, Uzbekistan
How to watch – Star Sports Network
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