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How are Abahani preparing for AFC Cup playoffs?

  • Published at 08:45 pm January 30th, 2020
Abahani players during training in Dhanmondi Dhaka Tribune

The Sky Blues are preparing to overcome the initial hurdles against new Maldives champion Maziya in the preliminary qualifying play-offs over the next two weeks

This time around, Abahani Limited are not playing the Asian Football Confederation Cup finals directly like they did last year where they made history by qualifying for the knockout stages for the first time. 

The Sky Blues are preparing to overcome the initial hurdles against new Maldives champion Maziya in the preliminary qualifying play-offs over the next two weeks.

Mario Lemos seemed to be in a relaxed mood with the forward line that has Sunday Chizoba, Kervens Belfort and also Nabib Newaj Jibon, who returned to training after recovering from injury.

But the Portuguese head coach do not have much options at center-back after Tutul Hossain Badshah was ruled out from Wednesday’s home tie due to stomach pain.

Impressive scoring rate was something to enjoy in Abahani’s games last year but it was vice versa in defence that forced Lemos to make four different center-back combinations due to continuous injuries. 

New faces will be seen at the heart of defence after Afghan defender Masih Saighani’s departure and the exclusion of Egyptian defender Alaaeldin Eissa from AFC Cup squad owing to quota of four foreigners.

Veteran defenders like Nasir Uddin Chowdhury, who moved to Bashundhara Kings last season before returning to his old club, Waly Faisal, Mamun Mia and Atiqur Rahman Meshu could take the lead in defence along with new Brazilian recruit Mailson Alves, who couldn’t train yesterday due to “little pain”, but Lemos assured to have him back ready by Friday.

“Mailson is a different kind of player than Masih,” said Lemos before training at the club premises Thursday. 

He added, “We conceded too many goals last time and this year, we have Nasir and Mailson who are not so good with the ball like Masih but these guys are little bit more fighter and stronger, that is what we need to get better defensively.”

One of the challenges Lemos now faces is making the incorporation between the national players, who played so many games, and the rest, who have played none before and after the Federation Cup. 

“We are trying to find the balance in between them because the main problem last year was injury,” said Lemos.

“Jibon was ill and took some time to recover. He was back in training last week. Saad [Uddin] and Sohel [Rana] are also tired for playing a lot of national games. We keep close eyes on these two players, not involving them too much in training to avoid injury,” he added.

Maziya however, will be in fully game mood after concluding their Maldives top-flight campaign with a nine-point lead only three days ago. 

“It will be a difficult game for sure. They are playing the league and we are not, so they have advantage of playing more games but we have confidence and experience from last year,” said Lemos.

The two sides faced each other during the group stage of the 2017 AFC Cup with Maziya winning both ties 4-0 on aggregate. 

The Maldives giant have most of the national players in their squad alongside four foreigners, three of whom play at the back-five.

“We have to be little bit more cautious and compact because it’s about only two games. Keeping clean-sheet at home is very important so that we will be in good position before the away game and qualify,” said the Portuguese tactician.

The first leg of the preliminary round 2 will be held at Bangabandhu National Stadium before the six-time BPL champion fly off to Male for the second leg on February 12. 

The winners will be up for final qualifying play-offs, likely against ISL champion FC Bengaluru, scheduled for February 19 and 26.

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