Under-Pressure Mohun Bagan Hope To Return To Winning Ways In AFC Cup
Smarting from the recent defeat to arch-rivals East Bengal, Mohun Bagan Super Giant will switch their focus from domestic to international competition
Smarting from the recent defeat to arch-rivals East Bengal, Mohun Bagan Super Giant will switch their focus from domestic to international competition as they face an in-form Machhindra FC of Nepal in the AFC Cup in Kolkata on Wednesday. Up against an in-form opponent in the preliminary round two clash, there will be no margin for error for the Juan Ferrando-coached side, which is looking to overcome their its first derby defeat in almost five years. The reigning Indian Super League champions lost 0-1 to traditional foes East Bengal in the Durand Cup three days ago.
Being a knockout round, the Mariners, who have been Inter-Zone semifinalists for the past two seasons, cannot afford to lose.
A victory will seal their place in the south zone playoff where they will face the winners of the match between Abahani Limited of Bangladesh and Maldives' Club Eagles, also slated for Wednesday.
Should they win against the Nepalese outfit, Mohun Bagan will also get to play at home in the next round, in their bid to make the continental showpiece's main round.
However, the Mariners did not have a perfect build-up to the AFC Cup after seeing their eight-match winning streak against East Bengal coming to an end last Saturday.
If that's not enough, Mohun Bagan are also competing in the local league (Calcutta Football League Premier Division), albeit with their youth side with a match slated on Tuesday, meaning the club is playing in three competitions simultaneously.
Asked whether he's happy with the build-up to the AFC Cup, coach Ferrando said: "It's not in our hands. We will try to find the best lineup." For long, Mohun Bagan have been living under the weight of having never won the continental tournament, unlike their arch-rivals East Bengal, the champions of the 2003 ASEAN Cup Championship.
Having lost back-to-back semifinals in the last two seasons, the Sanjiv Goenka-owned side have been aggressive in the transfer market, assembling a high-profile squad.
They not only have the crème de la crème of Indian football in their ranks, but they also have a star-studded foreigners' lineup in their roster.
Mohun Bagan also have brought back ISL's most successful coach Antonio Lopez Habas as a technical director of the side.
"He (Sanjiv Goenka) wants to win every trophy, that's normal being a team owner," Ferrando said of the pressure of expectations in the pre-match media interaction.
He was quick to point out that being a new side with high-profile players like Jason Cummings, who played against Lionel Messi in the 2022 World Cup, and Armando Sadiku, will need time to adapt.
The Asian Football Federation allows six foreigners (five players from any nationality plus one from an AFC member association) in the playing XI, something that may prove to be an advantage for Mohun Bagan with so many high-profile foreigners.
But Ferrando said he will put forward the best lineup based on their form, be it a foreigner or domestic player.
"If Kiyan Nassiri looks in better shape than Dimitri Petratos he will play, same goes for defenders Anwar Ali and Brendal Hamill," the Spaniard said.
As for the Kathmandu outfit, on form they are ahead having secured their first-ever win in the tournament, when they overcame Paro FC in the previous round.
The Kishore Kumar-coached side will have their hopes pinned on striker Afeez Olawale Oladipo and midfielder Andres Nia Tchounkeu while forward Bimal Gharti Magar will be keen to make a mark against his former club.
"They (Mohun Bagan) may be coming after a loss but we can't take it easy. They are a good attacking side who play with a 4-3-2-1 formation. We will have to make our defence strong and create chances," the coach said.
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