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2017 AFC CUP: Abahani's 'Europa League' begins on Tuesday

  • Published at 12:36 am March 14th, 2017
2017 AFC CUP: Abahani's 'Europa League' begins on Tuesday
Abahani have never played against Maziya, nicknamed The Green Boys, but they did face one of the most in-form sides from Maldives recently in the 2nd Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup at the end of last month where Abahani conceded a narrow 1-0 defeat against eventual champion TC Sports Club, who play in the same Dhivehi Premier League as Maziya. Having roped in Croatian tactician Drago Mamic at the beginning of February as head coach in place of the veteran George Kottan, Abahani got 10 days to prepare themselves for the Club Cup. With that said, Abahani's main focus was always on the AFC Cup in recent weeks. The standard of Maldives football has been improving significantly and they outplayed Bangladesh more often than not in recent times. The domestic clubs are also following in the footsteps of the national team. Having been formed in 1996, it took Maziya 10 years to get promoted to the First Division for the first time in history. It was only last year they won their first ever top-flight title whereas Abahani have already been triumphant five times. Abahani, being one of the most successful clubs in Bangladesh, have a lot to prove on the field. The Sky Blues however, do not have the best of records in the international stage. They participated in the AFC President's Cup five times before with no significant success. The Dhanmondi giant want to put their past record behind and are determined to make an impact in the group stage where they will also face I-League champion Bengaluru FC and Kolkata powerhouse Mohun Bagan in accordance with the home-and-away system. Mamic hoped his “finishers will be more sharper” than what they were in the Club Cup. Abahani will miss the services of one of their best attackers this season, Lee Andrew Tuck, but they have brought in Nigerian Emeka Darlington, a prolific striker who scored numerous times for Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club in the last couple of seasons. If Emeka is able to gel with his new teammates, including youngster Rubel Miah and English forward Jonathan David, Abahani have what it takes to penetrate the Maziya defence. In the absence of defenders Ariful Islam and Tapu Barman, Abahani hired Yeasin Khan, Nasir Uddin Chowdhury, Yeamin Munna and Rayhan Hasan as replacements. Abahani's historic unbeaten Premier League campaign last season was orchestrated by Austro-Hungarian Kottan. But Mamic is not a new face to the Abahani players, as well as the opposition, as he coached Maldives in 2014-15. “I know lot of players playing in Maziya. They are the best team (in Maldives) with quality players. It is good to see our selection against them. I can say we can play at the same level. The first match will be good for us,” Mamic, born in Serbia, said. [caption id="attachment_52354" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Almost half the players from Maziya Sports and Recreational Club's starting XI play for the Maldives national side DHAKA TRIBUNE[/caption] Almost half the players from Maziya's regular starting XI are from the national team, including Abdulla Asadullah, who will play upfront. The side's captain informed that they have four foreign players, among which two are from Serbia and one each from Kyrgyzstan and Romania. Meanwhile, AFC Cup can be labelled Asia's Europa League. A total of 36 clubs, divided into nine groups, will take part in the AFC Cup. WHAT THEY SAID Drago Mamic, Dhaka Abahani Limited head coach The game is very important for us because AFC Cup competition is very high in Asia. For Bangladesh, we will give our best to achieve good result and stay in the track to pass the hurdles. We have tried to prepare the squad. Marjan Sekulovski, Maziya Sports and Recreational Club head coach I think we are fully prepared for [Tuesday's] match. We are trying to take some information about Dhaka Abahani. We know about them as they have a group of foreign players and a foreign coach and lots of national players.