We're not favourites: ATKMB coach

We're not favourites: ATKMB coach
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Kolkata: Local heavyweights ATK Mohun Bagan will play all their three AFC Cup group D matches at home but that does not make them favourites to grab the only available berth for the inter-zone semifinals, coach Juan Ferrando said here on Tuesday.

A crowd capacity of 40,000 has been allowed for the AFC Cup group matches that will kick-off on Wednesday with ISL giants from Kolkata clashing with Gokulam Kerala FC, fresh from winning their second I-League title on the bounce.

The other two teams in the group are Bashundhara Kings, the Bangladesh Premier League champions and Maziya the winners of Maldives' Dhivehi Premier League.

"We're happy with the expectations. But we are not favourites. All the other three teams are champions (in their respective leagues) but we are not," Ferrando said on the eve of their AFC Cup group opener.

"We finished in third position in the last ISL. Maybe the expectations are high because ATKMB have a big name and a very good squad, this is my point of view," he said.

Ferrando was referring to their last ISL season where ATK Mohun Bagan finished third and were eliminated by eventual champions Hyderabad FC in the play-off semi-finals.

"Of course, it's amazing to play all our matches at home. The supporters are close to the team, players. It's advantage yes, but on the pitch it's XI versus XI. We have a lot of respect for all the three teams -- they are all champions in their respective leagues.

Post I-League success, Benny all excited


In their opponents camp, all eyes would be on their promising mid-fielder Emil Benny, who scored the crucial goal that helped Gokulam Kerala retain their I-League title just a few days ago here.

"I am very excited about this, we are the first club from Kerala to qualify for the AFC Cup and all the players are very eager to experience this competition," Benny said.

Having come through the club's youth system, the 21-year-old was named the I-League's Emerging Player of the Season in 2020-21 and is considered by many as being among the most promising prospects in India.

"I expect it to be a great experience as this is the first time the club will play a game at such a high level, so I'm very much looking forward to it. I think it will be an advantage for us because we have played our last two I-League seasons here in Kolkata, so the team always feels comfortable in the region."

Asked about his biggest motivation, Benny said: "I want to play for the national team. That's my motivation. I'm happy that I've made the reserve team."

Bashundhara happy to start as 'underdogs'


Bashundhara coach Oscar Bruzon said they are happy to start as "underdogs".

"I don't consider ourselves favourites. ATKMB have the most national team players. Also, India are way ahead of Bangladesh in rankings, but we will fight hard. It's better to come as underdogs, hiding a little bit of our strengths. Outside the pitch it's better not to speak much," he said.

Bashundhara Kings opened a six-point gap at the top of Bangladesh Premier League last week and head coach Bruzon was optimistic of his team's chances despite some injury concerns.

"We do have a few injury concerns, but we also have really strong national team players available. We believe if we suffer, we need to become stronger, and we are brave. We will overcome missing our key players," said Bruzon.

Will play without any pressure: Maziya


Maziya Sports are also well-placed in the Maldives Premier League, defeating Green Streets 4-0 last week to lead by five points and head coach Miodrag Jesic said his team will play with little pressure.

"We come here without too much pressure, we want to show our quality on the field. We think we have a chance in the group stage, and there isn't any pressure on the players," said Jesic.

"We will not put any pressure on our players, we just want to play, show our quality and win as many matches as possible," he concluded.