Fresh from a 4-3 win over Sheikh Jamal DC in a domestic league encounter, Abahani are looking forward to transferring their performance to the international stage when they host former I-League champions Minerva Punjab in their second AFC Cup encounter at the Bangabandhu National Stadium today.
The match will get underway at 5:45pm.
The six-time Bangladesh Premier League champions lead Group E with three points and want to consolidate their lead by securing full points against Minerva Punjab, who, along with Indian Super League champions Chennaiyin FC, are in the second position with one point each.
Abahani are in superb form in the domestic league as they notched four straight wins, scoring 12 goals as well as registering a 1-0 win against Nepal's Manang Marshyangdi Club in their first AFC Cup match. However, the Dhanmondi giants are a bit worried about playing with only two days' rest.
“We just played a match against Sheikh Jamal two days ago, so there is little time between the two matches. The most important thing for us is how we recover and rest the players because the players need to fully recover before the match against Minerva Punjab. However, we are looking forward to securing full points tomorrow [Wednesday],” Abahani's Portuguese coach Mario Lemos said at a pre-match conference at the BFF house yesterday.
According to Lemos, Minerva Punjab are a good team and strong in defence with two imposing foreigners in centre-back positions alongside a strong defensive midfielder and two technically good forwards.
But in the end it might turn out to be a battle between Abahani's on-song forwards against Minerva Punjab's strong defence. Lemos will bank on Sunday Chizoba and Nabib Newaj Jibon, who have scored eight goals each in 12 league matches so far this season.
“They [Minerva Punjab] are good in defence but we also have some good strikers. We have scored 13 goals in last five matches. I think we need to play with intensity and if we can avoid those two big centre-backs and play accordingly, we can get goals. Not only Sunday and Jibon, players like [Kervens] Belfort, Rubel [Miah], Jewel [Rana] are good in scoring,” explained Lemos, who must think about his vulnerable defence which conceded three goals against Sheikh Jamal despite leading 4-1 at one stage.
Abahani will have an edge in terms of experience as most of their players have experience of playing AFC-sanctioned tournaments before while Minerva Punjab are playing the AFC Cup for the first time. Minerva Punjab coach Sachin Badadhe is, however, confident about beating Abahani by defying all odds.
“We have prepared well and worked a lot on finishing which we lacked. We are targeting to score as many goals as we can to get full points,” Badadhe said. “Abahani played well against Manang Marshyangdi, but to be honest, the Nepalese side were good yet they could not finish off their chances. We studied Abahani well and know each of their players.”