Abahani emerged champion from South Zone with four wins, one draw and a defeat, while 4.25 were the winner of East Zone with five victories and a single loss, but the visiting side have a more impressive record, in terms of both scoring goals and conceding
Against all odds, chiefly playing against DPR Korea’s most successful club without some key players, Abahani Limited are determined to avail home advantage and create history once again in the AFC Cup when they face 4.25 SC in the first leg of the Inter-Zone Semi-final Play-offs at Bangabandhu National Stadium Wednesday at 6:45pm.
While it is the first time for a Bangladesh club to qualify for the knockout stages, the North Korean giant will be competing in this phase for the third consecutive time, including an Inter-Zone Final berth last year.
Both the sides reached this stage after topping their respective groups in the opening round.
The Sky Blues emerged champion from South Zone with four wins, one draw and a defeat, while 4.25 were the winner of East Zone with five victories and a single loss, but the visiting side have a more impressive record, in terms of both scoring goals and conceding.
4.25, also known as April 25, are unbeaten at home for the last two years and have not conceded any at home in the group stage this season, which might have tempted Abahani’s Portuguese head coach Mario Lemos to repeatedly term the first leg as the “final”.
“The motivation is the magnitude of the match. It’s a really a big match for Bangladesh, for the players, for the club, and for myself as well. For the players, it’s like representing the country and the club. We know they are good but we are not afraid. It’s a final for us and we play to win, nothing else,” said Lemos during the pre-match press conference Tuesday.
Abahani Limited are going to become the first ever club from Bangladesh to play in the tough knockout stage of the AFC Cup but the six-time Bangladesh Premier League champions are not in a good shape before the historical occasion.https://t.co/lzA9Zu7u7K— Dhaka Tribune Sports (@Sport_DT) August 19, 2019
There will be no Topu Barman, Masih Saighani and Alaaeldin Eissa in center-back and no Mamunul Islam, Atiqur Rahman Fahad and Wellington Priori in midfield and defensive midfield due to injury, suspension and departure, but Lemos wants no excuse.
“There will not be an excuse, that’s what I told my players. We take the responsibility. Some players are out and it happens in football, but the other ones will step up surely,” said Lemos.
With counter attacks in mind, Lemos hinted of defending differently with a 5-4-1 formation against a fast attacking lineup of 4.25, who are used to playing with two strikers and putting in a lot of crosses inside the box from which they scored most of the goals, while South Korean defensive midfielder Lee Tae Min is set to make his debut for Abahani.
One among Lee and veteran Mamun Mia will partner Tutul Hossain Badshah at center-back.
Saad Uddin may return to right-back with Rayhan Hasan as left-back.
“The key is defending well. Of course, it will be a test for our defenders. You got to run more, fight more, jump more. We need to be very aggressive while defending. If we defend well, I believe we can score goals too,” added Lemos, urging Sunday Chizoba, Kervens Belfort, Sohel Rana, Jewel Rana and Nabib Newaj Jibon to make their presence felt in the attacking half.
Abahani Limited are all set to write a glorious chapter in the annals of Bangladesh’s football as they will play the knock-out stage of the AFC cup being the first Bangladeshi club this week but a bizarre situation presented them a big blow.https://t.co/M2xb6Tzfaw— Dhaka Tribune Sports (@Sport_DT) August 18, 2019
Seeking support from the home crowd, Lemos wants to take advantage from the home ground as well.
“The teams who used to play on astro turf usually struggle on natural grass. Hopefully, it will also be harder for North Korean team. 4.25 have not lost at home for two years and our chances are here in Dhaka,” said Lemos.
April 25 are enriched with five national team players, among which three are forwards.
Their top striker Kim Yu Song is unlikely to play the full game but Abahani need to be cautious against the other two forwards - An Tae Song and O Hyok Chol.
Their head coach O Yun Sun said, “From knockout stage, every game is important. Both the teams will try to win, and we will give our best to win too.”