Bangladesh captain Jamal Bhuiyan also played for Chittagong Abahani in the last edition, and scored a goal in the semi-final as well, and knows what his side need to do to reach the final
Host Chittagong Abahani Limited will face their toughest challenge so far in their bid to win the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup again after four years when they take on I-League favorites Sree Gokulam Kerala FC in the first semi-final at MA Aziz Stadium in the port city Monday at 7pm.
The port city outfit won their first two matches comfortably against Maldives’ TC Sports Club (4-1) and Laos’ Young Elephants FC (2-0) before conceding their first defeat in the last group stage match against Mohun Bagan (1-0) without their regular playing XI.
They are determined not to repeat their exit from the same stage of the last edition where they lost to South Korean club FC Pocheon.
But Gokulam have been in fine form in pre-season that began three months ago as they won the traditional Durand Cup, fighting neck-to-neck against some ISL clubs, and outplayed Bangladesh Premier League champion Bashundhara Kings (3-1) in their first game of the meet, despite arriving in the city only a day before.
Chittagong Abahani head coach Maruful Haque is aware of Gokulam’s form.
Host Chittagong Abahani Limited reached the semi-final of the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup as group champion despite losing to Mohun Bagan AC 1-0 in the final group stage match at MA Aziz Stadium in the port city Friday.https://t.co/dniMgFvcxt#FOOTBALL #BFF #BANGLADESH— Dhaka Tribune Sports (@Sport_DT) October 25, 2019
“Their pre-season began many days ago so their preparation is better. They are organized and have experienced players in all three departments, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten. I’m hopeful that we can beat them,” said Maruful, south Asia’s only Uefa A-licenced holder.
“We became champion in the first edition (2015) and are trying to win it again. The opponent are a very good team, but the way my players performed in the group phase, and the performance graph was upward, if we replicate it we will be playing the final,” he added.
Gokulam looked dangerous on set-pieces, especially because of their Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Nathaniel Garcia, who scored a wonderful goal from a free-kick in the first game, and set up two in the last match against Chennai City FC.
Maruful said they worked on set-pieces to counter the threat.
“They have many variations in their set-pieces but I’m hopeful my players can stop those attempts,” he said.
Gokulam’s Argentine-born Spanish coach Fernando Santiago Valera said, “We are very happy to arrive in semi-finals. It will be competitive game because they are very good team. They have national team players, they have very good striker, Luka [Rotkovic]. We try to be intensive, and we’ll try to win the game.”
Along with Garcia, Ugandan striker Henry Kisseka has also been in fine form, scoring four goals thus o far to lead the top-scorers list jointly with Terengganu FC striker Bruno Suzuki.
The 30-year old Kisseka said, “Garcia is a special kind of player, very connected. He is a friend of mine so we have a good understanding. We are ready and prepared.”
Chittagong Abahani captain Jamal Bhuiyan was adjudged the best player in the first two games.
The Bangladesh captain also played for the same side in the last edition, and scored a goal in the semi-final as well, and knows what his side need to do to reach the final.
Jamal said, “It will be the most important game in the tournament. The only target is final. It’s going to be a tight game but we will have home crowd and their support during the game. We will give more than 100%.”