• Saturday, Jan 25, 2020
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Two champions face off in inaugural tie

  • Published at 11:13 pm October 18th, 2019
Club Cup

Chittagong Abahani Limited became the champion in the inaugural edition in 2015 beating East Bengal Football Club 3-1 in the final while TC Sports beat South Korean outfit FC Pocheon 4-2 in the tiebreaker to lift the last edition’s title in 2017

First edition’s champion and host Chittagong Abahani Limited and reigning champion TC Sports Club from Maldives will take on each other in the inaugural game as the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup kicks off at MA Aziz Stadium in the port city at 7pm Saturday.

Eight clubs from the top-flight leagues from five countries – India, Maldives, Malaysia, Laos and Bangladesh – were initially scheduled to participate in the only international club competition hosted by the country.

But after Abahani Limited’s late withdrawal from the meet, there was not any official announcement yet on the anticipated replacement of Gokulam Kerala FC from the Indian League.

I-League champion Chennai City FC are scheduled to set foot in Chittagong Sunday while the remaining six clubs, including Bangladesh Premier League champion Bashundhara Kings, Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan, Malaysia Cup winner Terengganu FC and Laos League club Young Elephants arrived in the port city.

Chittagong Abahani, who finished eighth in the BPL last season, can consider themselves as one of the favorites after bringing in experienced Maruful Haque as head coach and loaning in some national players like captain Jamal Bhuiyan, Rahmat Mia, Riyadul Hasan Rafi, Yeasin Arafat and Arifur Rahman.

Each team can register six foreign players while only five can be fielded at a time. 

The host’s club have three players – Ivorian midfielder Didier Brossou, Serbian defender Petar Planic and Montenegrin forward Luka Rotkovic – who have experience of playing the Europa League qualifiers. 

2010 World Cupper, Ghanaian striker Prince Tagoe will also be in contention.

The main challenge for Maruful is to get his side into right combination after the national players just joined the camp two days ago. 

“We have had three-week preparation and the six national players just joined. I hope it will be a good combination of players. I watched the games of other teams, they are strong but we want to do our job and win the title again,” said Maruful.

Star national midfielder Jamal had only a day of training with his new teammates but the captain said it would be no big deal for a professional footballer. 

“When you are a professional footballer you can’t always eat biscuit or drink tea with others all the time. The important thing now is how we play together and the only target is to become champions,” said the Saif Sporting Club footballer. 

TC Sports do not have the same squad they had before when they won the title two years back. 

Maldives league is going on and the club’s head coach Aafiu Mohamed Hamid also informed that lots of changes have been made since then and currently they have only one foreign player and three national players.

He admitted it would be “challenging” to retain the title.

Chittagong Abahani became the champion in the inaugural edition in 2015 beating East Bengal FC 3-1 in the final while TC Sports beat South Korean outfit FC Pocheon 4-2 in the tiebreaker to lift the last edition’s title in 2017.

What the other teams said

Meanwhile, among the other participants, tournament favorite Bashundhara’s Spanish head coach Oscar Bruzon appeared at the press conference with Costa Rican World Cupper Daniel Colindres. 

Bruzon said he has only two training sessions at his disposal with the full group after the return of his national players.

“It’s a prestigious tournament. Everybody sees it as a friendly tournament but all the teams came here to shine. We are also here to compete and we are not scared off anybody,” said Bruzon.

The most traditional club among the others, Bagan also have an Spanish head coach in Kibu Vicuna and they have as many as five Spanish players in the traveling squad, including captain Franz Gonzalez and Trinidad and Tobago defender Daneil Cyrus, who has 79 caps with the national team.

“It’s an important tournament for us because we take this as part of our preparation for next season. We came here with the best team and eagerly looking forward to our first game (against Young Elephants Sunday),” said Vicuna.

Laos’ third-placed club in the league, Young Elephants head coach V Selvaraj informed that this is the first international club cup competition his side are going to participate in since they were formed in 2015, and termed his squad as the youngest in the tournament with four players from the national team.

Malaysian Super League is one of the strongest leagues in Asia where Terengganu became runners-up in 2012. 

They also won the country’s oldest football tournament, Malaysia Cup, last year. 

Their head coach Nafuzi Zain said they are hoping to go as far as they can to become the champion in their debut participation in the tournament.