Gokulam Kerala upbeat ahead of Maziya clash
Kolkata: Fresh from their dominating win over heavyweights ATK Mohun Bagan, two-time I-League champions Gokulam Kerala FC will look to put one foot in the inter-zone semifinal with a victory over Maziya Sports & Recreation Club in the AFC Cup here on Saturday.
The Malabarians announced their arrival in the continental showpiece in style when they thrashed local favourites ATK Mohun Bagan 4-2 to take the pole position in group D ahead of Bashundhara Kings on goal difference.
With only the top team from group D to advance into the Inter-Zone semi-finals, another three points for the Vincenzo Alberto Annese-coached side would brighten their prospects.
Luka Majcen, who was their top goal-scorer with 13 to his kitty in the I-League, showed ominous signs with a brace and the Slovenian centre-forward will again be a vital cog in their attack.
The promising Indian duo of Emil Benny and Muhammed Uvais impressed with their creativity in the midfield.
An opening day 0-1 defeat to Bangladesh's Bashundhara Kings means another loss on Saturday will end Maziya's hopes.
Maziya head coach Miodrag Jesic however is not ready to give up.
"The mood in the team is good, although we are expecting a very tough match tomorrow. We will try to win.
"I think we played a good game against Bashundhara but what we need to do against Gokulam is minimise our mistakes and convert our chances," said Jesic.
"We know Gokulam are in good form and are a very good side. However, if we can minimise our errors, victory will be ours," he added.
The Italian Annese however is not taking their opponents lightly.
"We will face a team who have rich experience in this competition. They have players who have stayed with the team for a long time and they have national players.
"We studied them, they have quality in the middle, they have good pace and they try to give a lot of trouble to defensive lines," said Annese.
Perform or perish for ATK Mohun Bagan
ATK Mohun Bagan's bid to advance to their successive Inter-Zone semi-finals suffered a big blow when they lost to Gokulam Kerala FC.
A defeat against Bashundhara Kings on Saturday would mean early elimination for Juan Ferrando's side.
Their central defence collapsed in the second half after Tiri suffered an ACL tear.
Without Tiri, who has been ruled out for seven to eight months, managing their central defence would be the key area for the Mariners.
Suspense over Jhingan fitness
Veteran India stopper Sandesh Jhingan, who too is fighting injury issues, was seen warming up on the sidelines but was not included even after Tiri was stretchered off.
It remains to be seen whether Jhinghan finally makes a comeback or Ferrando gives him more time to recover with India set to play three Asian Cup qualifiers slated here next month.
"We have been unlucky with injuries, like Tiri. Pressure exists all the time, we have 26 players. I trust all the players. We won't have Tiri but there are other players that I trust to hold the defence in his absence," he said.
Bashundhara Kings head coach Oscar Bruzon said the opening 30 minutes would be crucial in deciding the outcome of the match.
"Big match, nice venue with the home team (ATK Mohun Bagan) planning a do-over game. We will stick to our plan, it will be important to hold the first 30 minutes, and then go ahead with our plans," said Bruzon.
"ATK Mohun Bagan are a team still in transition. They need to adapt more to the coach's plan. We know they are struggling at the back. But I am sure the coach has identified the struggles, and we will not get complacent," he added.