Last edition’s zonal-semifinalists Abahani will begin their AFC Cup campaign today when they take on Maziya S&RC of Maldives in the home tie in the preliminary stage-2 at the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
The six-time professional football league champions will be hoping to carry last season’s brilliant performances into the preliminary stage but the Dhanmondi-based outfit will be under pressure to perform against a Maldivian side, who have proved superior to Bangladeshi outfits over the past three seasons in Asia’s second-tier club competition.
“Pressure is always there but it is important to start well. Last season, we started with a win in Nepal and it was important to have a good start,” said Abahani coach Mario Lemos at the pre-match press conference at the BFF House yesterday.
“It is also very important not to concede any goals tomorrow because we are going to play the away match in Maldives. Of course, there is pressure but it is part of the game. If it is a one-match competition, there would have been more pressure, but having two matches reduces the pressure. If you are not perfect tomorrow, then you have an option to correct it in next match but we want to make it to the next round,” added the Portuguese.
Abahani had three weeks to prepare for the tie against Maziya S&RC after being eliminated from the quarterfinals in the Federation Cup. Their Maldivian opponents will be coming here after completing their Dhivehi Premier League campaign with a stunning outcomes of 16 win, three draws and one loss.
“It is time to beat them [a Maldivian outfit] but no disrespect to them. Maziya are a good team but I think we are better and we are going to win the match. I can’t predict what will happen but I feel like we will win the match,” said Lemos.
Last edition, Afghanistan centre-back Masih Saighani played an important role, even in the attacking third by hitting three goals, but he will be replaced in Abahani’s line-up by
Brazilian defender Mailson Aleves, who will stand alongside veteran Nasir Chowdhury, Saad Uddin and Raihan Hasan. Mamunul Islam, Sohel Rana and Kyrgyzstan’s Bernhardt Edgar are likely to play behind a trio of forwards -- Sunday Chizoba, Belfort Kervens.
Lemos believes the back four is ready to take on the challenge but that his forwards have to do more than the defence.
“Sunday, Belfort and I have good understanding. Last season we played together for the first time but we are better this time. The coach has faith in me and I want to repay that,” said Jibon.
Lemos’s counterpart Marjan Sekulovski is also optimistic of leaving Bangladesh with a win because they had beaten Abahani twice in the 2017 AFC Cup.
“You know it is a preliminary round and we have to play two games -- away and home. It is a kind of game where the first half is played in Dhaka and the second half will be held in Male. Our target is always to play a good game with the players giving their best to win the match here,” said Macedonian coach Sekulovski.
“Yes, two years ago we played against Abahani and beat them twice. I want to tell you again that the team has changed from two years ago and the current situation is more important than the previous record,” said Sekulovski. “In the last few days, we prepared for this game and the preparations were special. Abahani are a good team; not only in attack, they are also good in midfield and defence but we also have good players.”
The match will kick off at 5:00pm.