The Mariners won two and drew one of their three matches in the AFC Cup group stages.

ATK Mohun Bagan have qualified for the Inter-Zonal semifinals of the AFC Cup and are up against Uzbek outfit FC Nasaf Qarshi. The Indian Super League outfit advanced to the knockouts stage after topping their South Zone group unbeaten. This, however, will be a real test for the Mariners on the continental front. Antonio Habas will have his job cut out against a very lively and vibrant attacking outfit.

FC Nasaf have some of the brightest talents in Uzbekistan along with some exceptional foreigners and they will test ATK Mohun Bagan’s pedigree to the core. With Hugo Boumous missing due to a knock, there is a sense of urgency at the ATKMB camp and it will be interesting to see how the Mariners cope up with the pressure of this huge clash.

Here are the five key battles which will define the outcome of FC Nasaf vs ATK Mohun Bagan match.

5. Andrija Kaluderovic Vs Carl McHugh

The Serbian will lead the lines for Nasaf Qarshi. He is very well versed with Indian football, having featured in the Indian Super League back in 2018 for Delhi Dynamos. Kaluderovic has plied his trade for many teams all over the globe and brings in a lot of experience to this young Uzbek outfit. He scored a crucial goal against Ahal in their previous match in the AFC Cup and will look to continue that goalscoring form against ATK Mohun Bagan.

However, Carl McHugh will be vested with the responsibility to contain the big Serb. McHugh, who is predominantly a defensive midfielder, has been fielded as a centre back by ATKMB coach Antonio Habas. He has done a decent job for the Mariners in the group stages. But the level of competition will only increase from here and the Irishman cannot put a step wrong. He will have to keep Kaludjerovic in close quarters and keep the Serbian at bay. Only then the Mariners will have a chance to progress further.

4. Umar Eshmurodov Vs Roy Krishna

Roy Krishna
Roy Krishna has already scored two goals in three AFC Cup matches (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Just like the duel on the opposite penalty box, ATKMB star striker Roy Krishna will also be a constant threat for the Uzbek outfit. The Fijian has scored over 30 goals since coming to Indian shores. Krishna is known for his tireless running and excellent movement in and around the box. He works very hard to create chances and is also lethal in-front of the goal,

Nasaf head coach Ruzykul Berdyev will have his plans cut out for the Fiji international. It is likely that he will hand the responsibility of containing Krishna to club captain Umar Eshmurodov. The 28-year-old is vested with the responsibility of leading Nasaf’s defence. Eshmurodov has been a consistent performer for the Uzbek outfit and his exceptional defending have helped him earn a national team callup for Uzbekistan. Eshmurodov uses his physical stature to block opposition attackers and it will be interesting to see how he contains Krishna in the upcoming AFC Cup clash.

3. Husain Norchayev Vs Subhasish Bose

This will be one of the most important and exciting duels on the pitch. Husain Norchayev is one of the most exciting talent in Uzbekistan. The 19-year-old forward has been in fiery form for Nasaf this season. Norchayev is very versatile and can feature upfront as a primary striker or also play on the right flank. With Kaluderovic present up-front, Berdyev may field the youngster on the right. The Nasaf poster boy will look to torment the ATKMB defenders and create chances for the Uzbek outfit. Norchayev has already scored thrice in four AFC Cup matches and even in the league, he has netted eight goals in 17 appearances this season. He may be young but is a real livewire in attack for the Dragons.

Subhasish Bose will have the toughest job to contain Norchayev on the right flank. The India international is very sound defensively and has the talent to keep Norchayev at bay. Considering Norchayev’s form right now, any lapse in concentration or a defensive error from Bose can change the course of the game for the Mariners. The 26-year-old will have to be on his toes to contain the fiery forward. Neutralising Norchayev will be a huge task and if Bose manages to accomplish it then ATKMB will have a huge upper hand over the Dragons.

2. Marko Stanojevic Vs Joni Kauko

FC Nasaf ATK Mohun Bagan
Stanojevic scored the opener in FC Nasaf’s 3-2 win over Ahal

Marko Stanojevic is the midfield general for Nasaf Qarshi as he is the man who controls the tempo of play and delivers those defence-splitting passes from midfield. The Red Star youth product has been a very vital cog in Berdyev’s team since joining the club in February last year. The 33-year-old excels in passing, has tremendous vision and can keep things under control in midfield. He has the ability to dominate the midfield just like he did in the Central Zone final against Ahal FC. He scored a fantastic long ranger to hand Nasaf the lead in that game and if given space by the Mariners he will not be shy to pull the trigger again.

While Nasaf has Stanojevic, ATKMB will unleash their new acquisition Joni Kauko. The Finnish midfielder has come to India straight after featuring at the Euros with Finland. Kauko is an energetic midfielder, who likes to use his physicality to dominate opposition midfielders. Therefore in the absence of Hugo Boumous, Habas will rely a lot on Kauko to control things in midfield and also create chances for the likes of Krishna and Williams upfront. This will be his debut for the ISL club and he needs to be on song right from the start. It will be interesting to see two technically strong midfielders going up against each other.

1. Sherzod Nasrullaev Vs Manvir Singh

If ATK Mohun Bagan wants to beat Nasaf and progress to the next round of the AFC Cup then Krishna will need the support of Manvir Singh in attack. The Fijian is likely to be tightly marked by the Uzbek outfit and that could leave space for Manvir, who will most likely be operating from the right flank. The 25-year-old has shown time and again he can be devastating with his direct running through the flanks and his improved finishing in the last couple of seasons under Habas. The Indian forward scored a crucial goal against Maziya S&RC in the group stage and will look to replicate that form against Nasaf. Manvir also shares a great understanding with Krishna and Williams and therefore he can be a potent attacking threat from the right side.

However, Manvir’s job wont be easy as he will have to skip past Nasaf left-back Sherzod Nasrullaev. The 23-year-old Uzbek full-back is known for his lightning pace and vicious crosses from the left side. Nasrullaev came up with a fantastic cross that was poked home by Kaluderovic against Ahal. He is a busy player and will always be on the move. Therefore, Manvir will also have to support Ashutosh Mehta in defence. In the hindsight, Nasrullaev’s attacking instincts may play into the hand of Manvir, who can capitalise and get in behind the Nasaf defence through the right flank.

But the Mariners have to be very wary of his attacking threat. Nasrullaev has already registered seven assists this season in 14 league matches. He has also registered four assists and a goal in the AFC Cup this term. So Mehta or Prabir Das, whoever plays on the right will have to be very careful of Nasrullaev’s daunting runs down the flank.

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