Abahani Aiming At Winning Start Against SL Army
Tuesday, 12 May 2009

B. League champions Abahani are aiming to make a winning start in the AFC President's Cup when the hosts take on Sri Lanka Army in the opening match of Group B at the Bangabandhu National Stadium on Tuesday.

Bangladesh Television will telecast the game live from the venue at 6:00pm.

Eleven top clubs from third-tier Asian countries, split into three groups, will play group-phase matches with the winners of each group along with the best runners-up from all groups qualifying for the semi-finals.

Abahani had a disappointing campaign in last year's AFC President's Club after having finished group third among four teams, but this time the Sky Blues have set their sights on the semi-finals of the tournament after finishing top in Group B, which also consisted of Turkmenistan's FC Ashgabat, the semi-finalists of the last meet.

FC Ashgabat with eight national players will be the main contenders of Abahani, who, however, first have to overcome the hurdle of tough Sri Lanka Army, a team which emerged Sri Lanka Premier League champions for the first time this season after having played 10 years in the top level.

"Our previous AFC President's Cup campaign was not good, but this time we want to qualify for the semi-finals after becoming champions in the group stage and we are looking forward to making a winning start beating Sri Lanka Army in the first match," Abahani manager Sattyajit Das Rupu said at a pre-match briefing at BFF House on Monday.

"If everything goes the right way and the players perform like the way we know they can then we will be able to achieve our target by beating Sri Lanka Army," Rupu, who conducted the Abahani training for two weeks following head coach Amoles Sen's jaundice.

The Abahani players have been together for two and a half years and captain Nazrul Islam thinks the understanding among the players is the main strength of the side.

"We are together for more than two years and have been training seven to eight months this season and we are well prepared for the tournament," said Nazrul, a national defender.

After the Super Cup final on March 27, the Abahani players, except their six national players, were out of match practice and it might affect them against Sri Lanka Army, who spent three months preparing for the meet.

"I don't think the lack of practice match will affect us anymore because the players themselves have a good understanding," said Rupu adding that they would likely to adopt a 4-4-2 formation against Sri Lanka Army.

The Abahani manager also informed that they had no major injury problems except minor injuries of striker Jahid Hasan Emily and medio Arif Khan Joy.

"Emily sustained a minor ankle during Sunday's practice while Joy has a minor calf muscle injury, but I think both of them are fit for Tuesday's match."

Emily along with Ghanaian striker Awudu Ibrahim will be up front while Ibrahim's compatriot Samad Yousuf along with M Sujan, Wali Faisa, Ibnul Siraji and Nazrul Islam will be protecting the defence.

Inspirational Mamunul Islam, Abul Hossain and Pranotosh Kumar or Joy are likely to be deployed in the midfield while trustworthy Biplob Bhattacharya will be under the goalposts.

Sri Lankan head coach Major S Pathmanathan promised to put up a good fight against Abahani though he had no idea about the opponents.

"We have no idea about Abahani, but we heard from those Sri Lankan footballers who had played in at club-level in Bangladesh that Abahani is a strong side and we are not taking them lightly," said the coach.

The Sri Lanka Army team comprise two current national players, one former national player as well as some talented players, who were picked from different divisions of army.

Pathmanathan rated hosts Ahahani as the top favourite of Group B instead of FC Ashgabat, who have eight national players of Turkmenistan.

Source: bdnews24.com

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