Abahani to leave for Cambodia tomorrow
Like their previous three appearances, Abahahi set their sights on the finals of the AFC President's Cup as the three-time Bangladesh League champions begin their Group A Qualifying campaign in Cambodia from Saturday.
The new format of the President's Cup is what gives Abahani hope of qualifying since the final round this time will allow six clubs instead of four. This comes as a result of increasing the number of participating from nine to twelve.
The twelve teams, split into three groups, will play in league format and top two teams from each group will qualify for the finals of this third-tier club competition.
Abahani were eliminated from the group stages in all of their three previous appearances despite finishing joint-group champions at home soil in 2009 when they failed to qualify due to inferior goal difference. Last year they became group runners up while their first appearance in 2008 was a the worst that saw them finish third after going down Nepal Police 4-0, Regar-Tadaz of Tajikistan 2-1 and winning against Wapda FC of Pakistan 1-0.
“Our performance was not bad in the last two editions where we were eliminated because of goal difference but this time I think the new format will help us advance to the finals which is our ultimate target,” Abahani football manager Satyajit Das Rupu said yesterday.
A 30-member Abahani squad is scheduled to leave here for Cambodia on the early hours of Thursday where they will play against Don Bosco Sports Club of Sri Lanka, Neftchi Kochkor-Ata of Kyrgyzstan and Phnom Penh Crown FC Cambodia in Group A.
“The first match against Neftchi Kochkon is a crucial one. We will play for a win even though they are considered a strong side,” Rupu said. “We know more or less about the clubs from Sri Lanka and Cambodia and they are expected to be somewhat similar in strength to us since Cambodia's ranks lower than Bangladesh in FIFA rankings.”
However, Abahani's hopes of qualifying for the finals may be more difficult than it seems since their domestic form this season has been not as good as the last few seasons. After winning the Federation Cup earlier in the season, the Sky Blues were eliminated from the quarterfinals of the Independence Cup and they are currently trailing league leaders Muktijoddha by six points in the ongoing professional league.
Besides, key players like Ghanaian Awudu Ibrahim and midfielder Mehdi Hasan Ujjal have been suffering from injuries though both of them will travel with the squad. Apart from injuries, Abahani have a weak midfield to worry about.
Captain Prantosh Kumar said that their Iranian coach Ali Akbar may adopt a five-man backline in the AFC President's Cup like they did against Brothers Union in Independence Cup and Farashganj SC in the Bangladesh League.