The Mariners have travelled to Uzbekistan for the AFC Cup 2021 knockout game.

ATK Mohun Bagan face FC Nasaf in the AFC Cup 2021 inter-zone semis on September 22 (Wednesday). Antonio Habas’ side reached the knockouts after topping the South Zone group unbeaten. But in FC Nasaf they find one of the toughest oppositions in Asia. The Indian Super League outfit though are confident of overcoming the Uzbekistan side. Ahead of the match, star defender and ATKMB captain Pritam Kotal spoke to the media on the club’s preparation and challenges of the upcoming opposition.

Here are some excerpts from the interaction with the experienced ATK Mohun Bagan defender.

In which positions the team needs to improve? Especially when the game will be played on the opponent’s field.

Pritam Kotal: The teams in the group league were strong. We came to the knockout stage after defeating them. But it is the fact that Nasaf is the most powerful opponent in our region. We do not play depending on a person. We play as a team. As a result, I can’t mention in which position we need to improve. It is possible to beat Nasaf as soon as the team improves as a whole. Our coach is practicing that way.

Where is the real power of Nasaf. Does ATK Mohun Bagan have the capability to win that?

Pritam Kotal: Nasaf’s midfield is very strong. The wing play is very good. These both are the real power of the Uzbek club. We have to stop that. We are preparing that way. We want to go match by match. Everyone knows that we are the best club in India. We are one hundred percent optimistic about winning the way it has been practiced.

You are basically a right back. As Sandesh has left, you have to play in the stopper or centre back position for the team’s needs. How far are you confident in this position?

Pritam Kotal: All know me as a right back. That’s my place in the national team. But I used to play as a Stopper at the beginning. When I played in the National Youth Team, the National Coach Colin Toll used to make me play as a right back. When I played in the Indian Arrows, I played in all the positions.

So I have no problem playing in the right-back or centre-back position. Coach Habas regularly gives me confidence. Sandesh is not here now but I have played as the stopper when Sandesh was with the team. I think I have to improve every day to play regularly in the team. I will try that. And in modern football, one has to prepare to play in different positions.

ATK Mohun Bagan has not been able to get two regular defenders of the last two years in this match. Some problems in the defence can also be seen in the group league. Will it be repaired before the semi-final?

Pritam Kotal: Honestly, there has not been much change in our defence combination. We play as a team. Most of the footballers of last time are there. Nevertheless, the coach is giving us regular practice with the defence organization. All I am saying is that the defence will play the best game against Nasaf. There will be no problem.

Nasaf will play at home ground. Extremely strong opponent. It is a Knock-out match. Will it be your target to get a goal in counter-attack after playing defensive in the beginning?

Pritam Kotal: The coach is yet to tell us how to play. There was no discussion on strategy. But we are ready to keep proof of excellence in all categories. We will play supposing that the match may continue for 120 minutes. We have to play balanced football. All roads must be kept open as it is a knockout match. This tournament is the best platform for Indian footballers like us to establish themselves. It will be history if the team wins. We have the power to do that.

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