Maldives' most successful club, New Radiant Football Club arrived in Dhaka Sunday afternoon ahead of their opening AFC Cup Group E tie against Bangladesh champion Abahani Limited Wednesday.
The visitor, with the majority of their players sporting "traditional" beard, including Spaniard head coach Oscar Bruzon and the country's icon Ali Ashfaq, had a light warm-up session at the BFF artificial turf in the afternoon, for around half an hour, which was limited to only running and stretching.
The players looked confident which may be because of their incredible run since the beginning of last season as they won 13 out of 14 matches to become Maldives' top-flight champion. They also bagged two other titles in the same season, the last one being the President's Cup in the middle of December last year.
Nicknamed the Blues, as opposed to Abahani’s Sky Blues, New Radiant strengthened their squad for the new season by bringing in a couple of Spaniards - defender Jorgo Gotor Bles and midfielder Ruiz Angel Luis - and Afghan defender Haroon Amiri. The trio traveled with the team to Dhaka. They began the new season in the Male League with a couple of wins against TC Sports, who defeated Bangladesh Premier League side Saif Sporting Club in the AFC Cup pre-qualifying stage last month. Their latest victory, a narrow margin of 1-0, over Maziya Sports and Recreation Club Friday came on the back of a solo goal by Ashfaq.
Maldives’ all-time leading scorer Ashfaq rejoined the Blues in August last year but spent most of the time injured since then. Bangladesh are familiar with the name of the 32-year old as he has been one of the top forwards in South Asia for a long time now. After training, Ashfaq told reporters that they would be looking after the young players, specially forward Ali Fasir.
Oscar has been guiding the Male-based club since last season, winning all the major trophies in his debut season, as his influence saw three Spaniards recruited in the squad. He informed that they will concentrate on the tactical aspect in the remaining days before the game. Born and raised in the Galicia region of Spain, Oscar coached a couple of Indian League sides, Sporting Goa and Mumbai City (assistant coach) from 2012-15. Informing that this is the first time in Bangladesh for Oscar, he continued, "I have been in Kolkata so I know this area of football personally. This area is passionate (about) football so let’s see what we can get on that day." He also added that he knows Abahani "quite well", mentioning the African foreigners and is expecting a physical game.
Both New Radiant and Abahani are six-time professional league winners but the visiting side have a better track record in the AFC Cup than the home side. New Radiant reached the quarter-final of the AFC Cup in the last edition and also made it to the semi-final in 2005. This time around, the club have set their target of reaching the final.