Bangladesh Premier League champions Abahani will hope to end the jinx of failing to qualify for the knockout stages of the AFC Cup when they take on Minerva Punjab in their final group match at Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati, Assam today.
The Sky Blues, who have never crossed the group stage in AFC-sanctioned tournaments including two times in the AFC Cup, lead Group E table with 10 points from five matches.
A victory will see them through to the inter-zonal playoff, while even if they fail to win, they might still go through if second-placed Chennaiyin FC, who are on eight points, fail to beat Manang Marshyangdi of Nepal in the other match of the group today.
However, Abahani have issues regarding their playing eleven as their in-form Nigerian striker Sunday Chizoba failed to join the squad due to visa issues while Brazilian forward Wellington Priori will miss out due to injury.
The team’s coach Mario Lemos is set to bring some changes in players’ position and strategy in a bid to secure full points and he believes his charges are completely prepared to take the challenge against Minerva Punjab, the only unbeaten side in group with five draws from five matches.
“I feel that the team is ready. I still want to focus on some details for the match,” Lemos told The Daily Star over the phone.
Despite the absence of some key players, the 33-year-coach believes the strength of his side has not decreased and that the players are confident enough to win the match.
“I don’t think we are reduced in strength but we have to adjust because Sunday will not play and the player that will replace him is a different style of player. We want to be organised and balanced throughout the match; we don’t want to make mistakes, not get exposed in our defence and not allow Punjab to create chances,” Lemos said. “We are very confident we can score as we have scored 14 goals in last three matches, and we believe we can score tomorrow.”
The team management is also encouraging the players to give their best effort and avail the rare opportunity of a knockout berth following hard work which took the side to this stage.
“The players must believe [in winning without two foreigners] because we have come here to beat Minerva. We are on top of the group and we have a great chance to qualify for the next round. We need to finish the job. We are missing some players but that will not be an excuse for us. We want to win tomorrow,” hoped Lemos.