Bangladesh champion Dhaka Abahani Limited are determined to finish their 2017 AFC Cup campaign on a high note when they host Indian giant Mohun Bagan in their last group stage match at Bangabandhu National Stadium on Wednesday at 7:45pm.
The circumstances of the game is different, compared to the first leg in Kolkata that went in favour of Bagan. Both the sides have no hope of advancing to the knockout stage, turning the match into mere formality.
However, the Sky Blues are determined to give the fans a “special gift” from this game, ahead of their 2017 Walton Federation Cup semi-final against Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club on Saturday.
Abahani were not involved in any competitive domestic tournament when they travelled to Kolkata for the first leg in April, which is one of the reasons why they lost the game, despite dominating the first half. But now, they are in the Federation Cup last four and have three games in less than a week.
Bagan, on the other hand, were in full swing with a host of domestic matches taking place in April but for now, Wednesday's game will be their last of this season. The I-League ended at the end of April where Bagan finished runners-up.
The Sky Blues had to play the first leg with two foreign players excluding Ghanaian veteran defender Samad Yussif, who failed to obtain his visa on time. Bagan also faced the same situation as they had to come here without star Haitian forward Sony Norde, who was a popular name in Dhaka football while playing for Jamal, due to visa complication.
“It’s very unfortunate that Norde is not in the squad. He was very keen to come here. At the eleventh hour we came to know that he didn’t get the visa. It was a setback for the team but we have to move on,” said Bagan head coach Sanjoy Sen on Tuesday.
“Bagan are a very strong side. We also played two games away with only two foreign players. Not only Norde but they have many good players like JeJe, Katsumi, Balwant, etc. I’m only looking at my team and to play like we did against FC Bengaluru,” said Abahani head coach Drago Mamic.
While Sanjoy appeared confident with the depth of the squad at his disposal, Mamic wants to give the game top-most priority, despite the Federation Cup fixture.
“The most priority is next game. We cannot gamble on the representation of Bangladesh football. We have to play till last minute to win the game. I want [Wednesday] to be safe, then we will think about the semifinal,” said Mamic.
Abahani will miss the services of the in-form local winger Rubel Mia due to injury. Rubel scored a brilliant long-range goal in the Sky Blues’ 2-0 win over last edition’s finalist Bengaluru in their last home match on May 3. The other scorer of that fixture, Saad Uddin, is likely to feature once again, along with Welsh forward Jonathan David Brown, for whom it could be his last game for Abahani this season.
The weather suggests there is likely to be rain in Dhaka on the matchday. Sanjoy reminded that they are familiar playing amid rain in Kolkata.
“If the pitch remains suitable for the game, it will be a pleasing experience to play under rain. We enjoy it,” said the Bagan tactician.
Abahani are at the bottom of the Group E points table with only three points while Bagan are a place above with six points. Maldives champion Maziya Sports and Recreation Club are leading the table with 12 points, followed by Bengaluru, who have nine. Bengaluru host Maziya at the same time in the day’s other game.
WHAT THEY SAID
Drago Mamic, Abahani coach
It’s a big match. We are conscious about the match as it relates Bangladesh football. This is also the last game (in the AFC Cup) and I want to make special gift for the fans and not to finish with a loss. I believe the boys are also thinking the same and every player has same approach like me. I hope we have chance to win.
Sanjoy Sen, Mohun Bagan coach
The fact is that we are not going to make it to the next stage even if we win. But it would feel good if we can win the game and we will take on the field for the win. It will be a game of pride, the pride of the club and the pride of the country. We respect Abahani. The name Abahani is something like a brand in Bangladesh.