The Bangladesh Premier League runners-up will lock horns with the Maldives champion in the first leg of pre-qualifying play-offs, scheduled to kick-off at 5pm local time
Abahani Limited are confident of putting up a better show than last season, with a smooth start in the AFC Cup 2020 against Maziya SRC at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka Wednesday.
The Bangladesh Premier League runners-up will lock horns with the Maldives champion in the first leg of pre-qualifying play-offs, scheduled to kick-off at 5pm local time.
Maziya just concluded their domestic league campaign last week with a 10-game unbeaten run, while Abahani played their last competitive game a little over a month ago.
However, the Sky Blues insist they are taking confidence from last season’s performance and are “hungrier” than the visitor for the win at home.
The attacking trio of captain Nabib Newaj Jibon, Nigerian striker Sunday Chizoba and Haitian winger Kervens Belfort are expected to pose major threats to the visiting defence, which consists of three foreign recruits out of four – goalkeeper Ovays Azizi and center-back Sharif Mukhammad of Afghanistan and Serbian defender Petar Planic, who played for Chittagong Abahani Limited last season.
National duo Sohel Rana and Mamunul Islam are likely to start in midfield for Abahani, alongside new Kyrgyz signing Edgar Bernhardt.
The back-four is almost certain to include veteran Nasir Uddin Chowdhury and Brazilian Mailson Alves in the heart of defence, with Rayhan Hasan and Saad Uddin as full-backs.
Defender Tutul Hossain Badshah has recovered from injury well and is expected to be on the bench, but will not start.
Abahani’s last match, in the Federation Cup quarter-final on December 30, did not end on a happy note as they lost to Rahmatganj Muslim Friends Society on penalties after netting nine goals in two group stage matches.
Scoring has not been an issue for Lemos, but the defence has been a big concern for the Sky Blues coach.
“I wanted to improve the team defensively because we conceded too many goals last season,” said the Portuguese tactician at the pre-match conference Tuesday.
“This time, we want to be more disciplined and organized in defence and to keep scoring at the same time, while getting better in transition and set-pieces as well,” he added.
“I want us to be perfect. We reached the semi-final last season because we did good things and we have to keep doing this. I told my players ‘Can we do better than last year? If we can’t, why can’t we?’ We can do better. We are stronger,” the coach further said.
Abahani do not have a good record against the Maldivian side in the competition, as they lost 2-0 both at home and away in the AFC Cup group phase in 2017.
Maziya coach Marjan Sekulovski was there with the team three years ago along with six local players in the squad, and the Serbian believes that his team are as strong as before.
“We played twice against Abahani and beat them twice, but many things have changed over two years. Maziya were a strong team in 2017 and they are also strong now, but the situation is different. Our target is the same, which is to win,” said Sekulovski.
The two captains, Mohamed Irufaan of Maziya and Jibon of Abahani, both believe their respective sides were stronger.
“We - me, Sunday and Belfort - have a better understanding between us than last season, which was our first year together. We are better this time. I want to score goals, but the most important thing is we must win at home,” said Jibon, who was last season’s top local scorer and missed the Bangabandhu Gold Cup due to illness.
The Sky Blues did not lose any games at home during their historic AFC Cup run into the inter-zonal semi-final last season, and they will be keen to maintain the record.
WHAT THEY SAID
Mario Lemos, Abahani coach
It is very important for us to start with a win. We reached the semi-final last season because we did good things and we have to keep doing this. What I told my players is ‘Can we do better than last year? If we can’t, why can’t we? We can do better.’ We are stronger than last season.
Marjan Sekulovski, Maziya coach
It is kind of like the first half of the game is being played in Dhaka and the second half will be played in Male. Our target is always to play a good game. Our players will be trying to give their best performance and win the match.
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