Bangladesh Premier League champions Abahani are hoping to make a winning start in a bid to end their first-round jinx in the AFC Cup when they take on Nepal's league champions Manang Marshyangdi Club in the first match of Group E in Kathmandu on April 3.
The Sky Blues have not been able to cross the first-round hurdle in their previous two attempts in the AFC Cup and five attempts in the now-defunct AFC President's Cup.
However, they believe this time the team is more balanced and in-form than the previous editions. The other two teams in their group are two Indian outfits -- two-time Indian Super League champions Chennaiyin FC and former I-League champions Minerva Punjab. Only the group winners from Group E will advance to the next stage, the inter-zonal playoff semifinals.
The Abahani team will fly off for Kathmandu today and will have three days to prepare ahead of their first match of the group against the hosts.
The team's coach and manager feel that a win in the first match would make their bid to qualify for the knockout stage easier.
“The first match is very important for us. If we get a result away from home, we will be in a good position,” the club's coach Mario Lemos told media at a press conference at the Bangladesh Football Federation house in this regard.
The Portuguese coach informed that the team has been training for the last two weeks, out of which one week has been on the Kamalapur Stadium turf as the pitch at the ANFA Complex in Kathmandu has a similar turf.
“We have analysed our opponents. It is going to be a difficult match. But if we stay organised and disciplined, we can get a positive result. I want my team to win every match and I want them to be almost perfect,” the coach said.
Although they are former champions of the ISL and I-League respectively, Chennaiyin FC and Minerva Punjab are not in the best of forms this season. While Chennaiyin FC finished 10th among 10 teams in the ISL this season, Minerva Punjab are 10th in the I-league currently. Lemos, however, feels the challenge will be hard regardless of the position of the opposition teams.
“The Indian teams maybe not doing well now, but they are champions. It's not going to be easy for us,” the Portuguese coach said.
Abahani manager Satyajit Das Rupu informed that the team is in good shape ahead of their first match.
“Since it is the early part of the league, the players are fit and in good form. Adding a new player from Brazil will strengthen our team,” said Rupu, adding that they have included Brazilian forward Wellington Priori in place of Korean midfielder Ko Min-Hyuk.
The veteran organiser also informed that centre-back Topu Barman has been ruled out of the match due to a knee injury he sustained during training recently and young defender Tutul Hossain Badsha will play in his position.
The press conference was attended, among others, by veteran sports organiser and Abahani's team leader Harunur Rashid, team captain Shahidul Alam Sohel and assistant coach Zakaria Babu.