Kolkata: Indian Super League heavyweights ATK Mohun Bagan will look to start afresh after their premature Durand Cup exit when they take on Kuala Lumpur City FC in their AFC Cup 2022 Inter-Zone semi-final on Wednesday.
In a rebuilding mode after the departure of some high-profile stars in Roy Krishna, David Williams, Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri, Juan Ferrando’s side faced a rude reality check when they were eliminated in the group stage of the Durand Cup.
A shocking 2-3 reversal against I-League franchise Rajasthan United in their season opener and a 1-1 draw against Mumbai City FC highlighted that they are still a team in transition.
Despite some promising signings in Ashique Kuruniyan, Vishal Kaith, Asish Rai, Brendan Hamil and Florentin Pogba, ATK Mohun Bagan failed to score against East Bengal and an own-goal by their rival gave them a lucky 1-0 win in the season’s opening derby.
The elder brother of World Cup-winning Paul Pogba, Florentin, who came amid much fanfare, has so far failed to impress while the likes of Kuruniyan and Rai are still trying their best to forge chemistry with Hugo Boumous and Dimitrios Petratos.
In a vastly improved opponent in Malaysian Cup winners Kuala Lumpur City FC, Ferrando will have his task cut out if the side has to improve on its last season’s show when it was hammered 0-6 by Uzbekistan’s FC Nasaf in the 2021 Inter-zone semi-final.
“I think these are different tournaments. The Durand Cup is in the past and our focus is in tomorrow. It’s the most important thing in football to think about the present and future,” Ferrando said on the eve of the match.
The Mariners had bounced back from a 2-4 loss to I-League champions Gokulam Kerala to defeat Bashundhara Kings and Maziya of Maldives en route to the inter-zone semifinal.
“The players are ready and motivated for tomorrow’s game. They’re thinking about the future as a club, and I hope tomorrow we’ll be happy after the match,” Ferrando said.
Playing at home will be a huge advantage, Ferrando said, adding, “Honestly it is a pleasure to play at home, we are playing in front of our supporters.”
“The players and staff are professional, and we will try to do our best. Playing at home is amazing because I know the supporters, I know the stadium, I know Kolkata football, and it’s amazing when you play here”, he said.
“My focus is to score one more goal than the opponents, this is our target. This is our way and the mentality of our players. I’m not thinking about not conceding because if you don’t take any risks you will lose,” Ferrando added.
Ferrando however disagreed that they are facing finishing issues, as was evident in the derby against East Bengal.
“This is a part of football. I’m worried as a coach if we can’t create chances. They’re creating chances and working on my plans,” he said.
Two-time Malaysian Super League winners have returned to an Asian continental competition after a gap of 28 years.
In the group stage, they qualified for the next round as the best runners-up, and Bojan Hodak’s side then had to overcome Vietnam’s Viettel FC and PSM Makassar again to set up a clash against the Mariners.
KL City FC finished sixth in the 12-team Malaysian Super League last season and qualified for the AFC Cup thanks to their triumph in the Malaysian Cup.
Like Mohun Bagan, they too have come with a mixed form, having won just two of their last five matches.
They were beaten 0-5 by Malaysian league leaders Johor Darul Ta’zim a month ago but have done well to bounce back from that loss.
In the AFC Cup, KL City FC is unbeaten with two draws and two wins so far and has scored seven goals, conceding just three.
With two goals to his name, their captain Paulo Josue has been their leading scorer and the Brazilian will look to make some early inroads along with Colombian forward Romel Morales at the Saltlake Stadium.
The winner of ATK Mohun Bagan versus Kuala Lumpur City FC will meet either Sogdiana Jizzakh of Uzbekistan or Hong Kong’s Eastern football club in the inter-zonal final. Kickoff is at 7 pm IST.
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