ATK Mohun Bagan justify favourites tag and qualify for AFC Cup knockouts

By Soumik Banerjee

ATK Mohun Bagan Football Club qualifies for the AFC Cup Inter zonal semi-finals playoffs, after finishing at the top of group D. ATK Mohun Bagan went into the tournament with a very short pre-season and was drawn with Bengaluru FC, Maziya and Bashundhara Kings in Group D. After getting postponed many times, the matches were scheduled in Maldives.

The mariners started the tournament against their old rivals, Bengaluru FC on a high note. Their talismanic striker Roy Krishna opened the scoring with a header at around 37th minute and gave them a 1-0 lead. Just after the restart, David Williams found Subashish Bose into the box, who put the ball past a full stretched Gurpreet to make it 2-0. The mariners showed good structure in defense and finished the match 2-0. After his big-money move from Mumbai City, Hugo Boumous impressed in his debut match. In the other match, Bashundhara Kings got the better of Maziya.

2 days after their win against BFC, ATK Mohun Bagan faced local champions Maziya Sports RC. ATK Mohun Bagan started the game typically with their high press but weren’t able to create proper chances. Suddenly against the flow of the game, the Maldivian outfit found the back of the net through a quick counter from an ATKMB corner. Mariners went into the halftime trailing 1-0 courtesy of Ibrahim Aisham’s goal. Habas opted for a 5 man backline changed the shape and brought Ashutosh in place of a struggling Rathi. With his first major contribution in the game, Ashutosh assisted Liston with the equalizer.

A much relieved ATK Mohun Bagan then chased for the winner. Minutes after getting into the field Bagan’s new no.10 Hugo Boumous showed his class. After shrugging off a few challenges, he managed to keep possession of the ball, broke Maziya’s defense with a delightful through ball and put it into the plate for Liston. Mazda’s Goalkeeper made a brilliant save with his right foot but Roy Krishna who was waiting for the second ball lobbed it into the back of the net. A few minutes later, Boumous again broke the lines with his brilliant through ball found Manvir Singh. Manvir continued his run and made it 3-1 for the green and maroon brigade.

ATK Mohun Bagan picked up their second win of the campaign. Earlier that day BFC held Bashundhara Kings in a goalless draw.
Coming into the game ATK Mohun Bagan was leading the table with 6 points and only needed a draw to finish top of the table and qualify for the knockouts. Hugo Boumous who picked two yellow cards in the last match was suspended. After a stop-start nervy start from both the teams, David Williams found Liston Colaco wide open in the box. Liston squandered his shot and missed the opportunity. Finally, at around the 27th minute Kings’ midfielder, Fernandes who was given some space in the box opened the deadlock with a strong strike. After conceding the goal, the mariners chased the rest of the first half the equalizer but were unable to create clear cut chances. Bashundhara players who were already having a rough game were cautioned many times before finally seeing them going a man down seconds before halftime. A fresh ATK Mohun Bagan started the second half on top and created immense pressure on ten men Bashundhara.

Bashundhara on the other hand sat back and looked to defend their narrow 1-0 lead. Finally, at around the 62nd minute, Liston found David Williams in the box who made no mistakes put it past Anisur to make it 1-1. Minutes after getting the equalizer, David Williams got another golden opportunity in the box but this time he mistimed his shot and failed to convert.

Finally, after losing their lead, Basundhara started to go all out in search of the winner. Brazillian forward Robinho came close with his curling effort from the outside of the box and caught Amrinder flat-footed, only to see his effort kissing past the post. Habas’ team then showed grit and didn’t gave away any lost chances and finished the match 1-1.

With a hard-fought draw, the green and maroon brigade finished the group stage with 7 points from 3 matches and set foot into the knock out stages of the AFC Cup. The Mariners will face the winner of Uzbekistan’s Nasaf Quareshi and Turkmenistan’s Ahal FK in the Inter-Zonal Semi-Final Playoffs.

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