Abahani eye winning start | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 03, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, April 03, 2019

Abahani eye winning start

Abahani will look to make a winning start to the AFC Cup when they take on hosts Manang Marshyangdi Club in their Group E opener at the ANFA Complex ground in Lalitpur, Nepal today.

The match is set to get underway at 3:15pm Bangladesh Standard Time.

Six-time professional league champions Abahani did not win either of their opening AFC Cup fixtures in the last two editions, where they finished fourth and third in four-team groups in 2017 and 2018 respectively, notching one win and one draw from their six matches on both occasions.

This time however, the Sky Blues have high hopes of qualifying for the second round of Asia's second-tier club competition with an outright win over Manang, who previously beat Abahani 0-2 in the King's Cup in Bhutan in 2005.

“Our motivation is very high since we are trying to achieve something that has never been done before by the club by making it through the group stages. Tomorrow [Wednesday] is just the first match and we want to start out AFC Cup journey with a win,” said Abahani's Portuguese coach Mario Lemos over the phone from Nepal.

Playing against the Nepalese side is definitely not going to be an easy task for Abahani, who often struggled against Himalayan teams at both the national and club levels, however, Lemos is hopeful about turning the tide this time around.

“We know it won't be an easy match because Manang is a good team and since they will play at home, they will be confident. They will pressure us but we are ready for it. I feel that if we stick to our game plan as well as remain organised, then we can get the three points,” the 34-year-old coach said.

Abahani are currently in second position in the ongoing Bangladesh Premier league with eight wins in 10 matches but they have not had any competitive matches for a month seeing as many members of the squad were tied up in last month's FIFA international friendly match between Bangladesh and Cambodia. After that, the national under-23 team was engaged with the AFC U-23 Championship Qualifiers. Seven Abahani players were a part of the senior national team while two others featured for the U-23 squad during that time.

Coach Lemos had three weeks to prepare his charges, albeit with a few absentees, for the tournament where he plans to field a full-strength side with the inclusion of four foreign players.

Lemos's counterpart Chirring Lopsang Gurung is also upbeat about securing the full three points today even though he did not get much time to prepare the team due to Nepal's engagement in the AFC Cup U-23 Championship Qualifiers.

 "We wanted a long-term camp but couldn't conduct it due to the national team's international schedule. However, when we have got all players, we took a good preparation within a short period of time,” Chirring was quoted as saying at a pre-match press conference in Kathmandu. “Honestly speaking, our target is to go to the second round and we need to start with a win. It is going to be a 50-50 affair against Dhaka Abahani.”

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