The side from the Bangladeshi capital will face ATK Mohun Bagan in the AFC Cup final round of qualifiers.

ATK Mohun Bagan are set to play Abahani Dhaka of Bangladesh in the AFC Cup playoff at Yuva Bharati Krirangan, Kolkata. Abahani Dhaka got an automatic qualification to this round after their preliminary round-two match (April 12) saw Valencia giving them a walkover due to financial crisis. Ahead of the fixture, Abahani Dhaka head coach Mario Lemos addressed the media. Here’s what he said.

Importance of the fixture

The 35-year-old manager started by stating the importance of this match, “Every match is important. At Abahani we play every match to win. Of course, this match has a little bit more importance because we’ll qualify to the group stage. Our first target in the competition is to reach the group stage. We take this match very seriously and we will do everything to try to win tomorrow.”

Knowledge of the ISL– Mario Lemos

The Portuguese head coach has followed the Indian Super League back in Dhaka. He reflects on his knowledge of the league and Indian football, “I have had a better knowledge of Indian football ever since I have arrived in Bangladesh and played against Chennaiyin and Minerva Punjab.

“In Bangladesh, the ISL matches are always on TV. It’s also a market. A lot of players who play in the ISL end up also playing in Bangladesh and vice versa. Last year in the AFC Cup, ATK Mohun Bagan played against Basundhara Kings. We always follow the league. It’s an interesting league. For me, it is very important to follow, watch and know their local players and foreigners.

Dorielton available tomorrow?

Brazilian forward Dorielton (Dori) wasn’t present in the squad against Baridhara on April 7. The coach shed light on his availability, “We are trying to field him. He came with us. If he is available to play, then he will. He has an injury. We’ll push until the end. At the last minute, if it is not possible for him to play, we will take another option.”

Knowledge of ATK Mohun Bagan’s foreign contingent

Mario Lemos was asked if he knew any Bagan foreigner on a personal note. He was also enquired if he had seen them play earlier. The tactician quipped, “I follow the league so I know them well. Hugo Boumous is a special player. He is the only player who has been transferred here.

“Tiri is a very good centre-back. His passing abilities are one of the best in the ISL. They have a good collection of foreigners. What makes ATK Mohun Bagan a good team is the balance between the locals and the foreigners. For us, we have to be very organised and disciplined and not allow them to play. If we allow them to play, we’ll be in trouble for sure,” Mario Lemos added.

Thinking of finishing the game in 90 minutes?

The 35-year-old mentioned about how he approaches a game, “If you ask me how to prepare to draw a game, I don’t know how to do it. My mentality towards every game is to win the match in 90 minutes. That’s how I face every game. I don’t know how to play for extra time. We will try to win the game in the 90 minutes.”

Playing in front of a fully-packed stadium

Before signing off, Mario Lemos briefed about what type of atmosphere he and his team Abahani Dhaka prefer, “I have been asked this question a lot. I ask my players whether it is easy to play in a full stadium or an empty stadium. I prefer to play in a full stadium. That’s why we entered in this game.

He added, “Of course, the noise will be a disadvantage. But if we can block the noise and enjoy, that’s what I want as a coach and my players – we want big stadiums, big crowds. That’s what football is about. We have been training at empty stadiums. It is not the same thing. We hope a lot of people come to the stadium and cheer for who they want. We have to do our job. But we are looking forward to play tomorrow.”

Apart from the head coach, forward Nabib Newaj Jibon too interacted with the meda. Here’s what he had to say.

Importance of the match

The 31-year-old striker spoke about the importance of this game, “Tomorrow’s match is very important for us and we have prepared well. It’s like a final tomorrow. We all need to play well in order to decide our fate. We will try to give our best.”

Jibon’s knowledge of ATK Mohun Bagan

The forward had previously faired against Bagan a few years back. Jibon asserted, “I have previously played against Mohun Bagan but not ATK Mohun Bagan. This Mohun Bagan is different. They are a very strong team. We had played against many I-League clubs. Since it is ATK Mohun Bagan’s home game, they’ll be a strong opponent. We have been performing well and are hopeful of doing well tomorrow.”

When asked if he had shared his experience with the head coach, Jibon mentioned, “No, I haven’t shared my experience with the coach. It may so happen that our manager has informed him. The coach definitely knows about ATK Mohun Bagan as he has seen their videos.”

Are you frustrated to see ATK Mohun Bagan labelled favourites for this game?

The forward calmly asserted that he wasn’t frustrated to see ATK Mohun Bagan marked as favourites for the game. He mentioned, “No, it is normal. It’s their home match. It’s not frustrating for us. We are professional footballers. We have to play in every situation. Personally, there’s no frustration working inside me. We had some problems (injuries), which have been solved. Our entire team is fit now. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

When asked if Abahani Dhaka want to win tomorrow, Jibon opined, “We have to struggle to win. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”

Has ISL increased the quality of Indian players?

In 2019, prior to the India – Bangladesh game at Kolkata, Bangladesh skipper Jamal Bhuiyan said at the press conference that since the Indian players fair in the ISL, they are ahead of Bangladesh. Jibon was enquired if he felt that the ISL has helped in progressing Indian football.

The forward stated, “Yes, it is true that because of ISL, Indian football has progressed a lot. Probably it will progress even further in the future. Bangladesh football is also not much behind. We are also progressing regularly. ISL has helped in increasing the fitness and upgrading the quality of the Indian players. Similarly, these things are improving in Bangladesh as well.”

Jibon’s relation with Pritam Kotal

In 2021, when Jibon arrived in Kolkata for a surgery, it was Pritam Kotal who took immense care of the then Basundhara Kings stalwart. Jibon shed light on his relationship with the ATK Mohun Bagan defender, “It is an off the field relation. Last year I came to Kolkata for my surgery. At that time both Pritam Kotal and his wife Sonela Didi helped me a lot. That’s a different issue.”

When asked if Kotal has inspired him in football, “No, we haven’t spoken about that. We spoke about how many people are talking about us. It is an off the field relation between both of us.”

For more football updates, follow Khel Now on TwitterInstagram and join our community on Telegram.