Rising powerhouse Saif Sporting Club will make their international debut when they host Maldives outfit TC Sports in the south Asia zone's preliminary round of the AFC Cup 2018 at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka Tuesday at 3pm.
It will not only be AFC Cup debut for the big-spending Saif Sporting, formed one and a half years ago before making their premier league debut this season with a top-four finish, but the game is also set to give international debut to their coach Ryan Northmore.
TC Sports will also be looking forward to making an impact in their first-ever appearance in Asia's second-tier club tournament. Having finished runners-up in the Maldives top-flight, TC Sports also emerged only four years ago and the first international event they took part in was the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup in Chittagong in February last year where they emerged undefeated champion.
Saif Sporting are treating the two-legged playoff quite seriously. They loaned in eight players from Chittagong Abahani Limited, only for the AFC Cup, including Zahid Hossain, Mohammad Abdullah, Towhidul Alam Sabuj and Sohel Rana. The club had to exclude the premier league's most expensive forward, Wedson Anselme, due to below-par performance and brought back Colombian forward Deiner Cordoba. They also signed Uzbekistan midfielder Akhror Umarjonov, along with the already recruited English striker Charlie Sheringham.
Expressing satisfaction with their preparation, Northmore at the pre-match press conference Monday said, "It's an advantage to bring in new, quality players to the squad but at the same time, it's also a challenge to integrate the players quickly. We had to speed up the process."
The Bangladesh Premier League ended on January 13 and Saif Sporting started their residential camp in Savar's BKSP three days later. They also took part in a couple of matches in the Independence Cup that began last week. Northmore admitted that time was short but local players adjusted quickly as they are familiar to each other.
He added, "The foreign players (Kingsley Chigozie and Umarjonov) have good football education and they are also used to the situation."
TC Sports played their last competitive game on December 15 last year when they lost the President's Cup final against Maldives champion New Radiant Sporting Club. The club coach Mohamed Nizam is happy to return to Bangladesh after the club enjoyed a title winning campaign in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup.
He said, "Saif Sporting are a young club, maybe new in this level but TC Sports are also a new side. The chances are open for both sides to gain experience. Saif Sporting got some experienced players for the game. We have had only 12 days of preparation. But we are ready."
TC Sports forward Ibrahim Mahdhee Hussain will be the player to watch for the Saif Sporting defence. One of Mahdhee's 17 goals this season earned him the best goal of the season award, as well as a place in the national team.
Meanwhile, the tickets for the game will be free for all the spectators, provided by the host club, Saif Sporting. The second leg will be held in Maldives next Tuesday.
WHAT THEY SAID
Jamal Bhuiyan, Saif Sporting captain
[Tuesday's] game is precious not only for Saif Sporting and the players but also for Bangladesh. We have a big group of players. We had the best preparation so far. We are ready.
Farrah Ahmed, TC Sports skipper
Honoured with the hospitality. We will do our best to entertain the crowd. Tough competition but we want to take advantage before the home tie next week. We are prepared for the fight.