The Mariners start as firm favourites against Sri Lankan side Blue Star SC at the Salt Lake Stadium.

ATK Mohun Bagan will kick-start their AFC Cup 2022 preliminary qualifying stages with a game against Sri Lankan league champions Blue Star SC at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday. The Mariners will have to win the game to move onto the final round of qualifiers. A loss will end their dreams of playing in the continental competition. Before the game, head coach Juan Ferrando addressed the media.  

Thoughts on game

Speaking on his feelings on the match, Ferrando said, “I think it won’t be an easy game because it’ll only be a 90 minute-knockout tie. Our opponents have won the last five games. They won the last one against the Nepal team. In the end, it’s 90 minutes and it won’t be easy, as it’s an international competition and everyone wants to do the best.”

Playing in front of fans

The game will mark the first time ATKMB will play in front of fans at the Salt Lake Stadium in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era. When asked about whether he’s excited for his team to play in front of fans, the Spaniard stated,  “Of course, I’m excited because I’m thinking like a player. It’s important to play in front of supporters after two years of a difficult pandemic.

“Now, it’s good as the supporters can support the team. They can be close to the players and can show their support directly. I’m thinking about myself and the coaching staff and we’re happy as our job is to help the players. It’s important when the supporters are close to us,” he added.

Managing ATK Mohun Bagan

When asked about how he feels to be part of a historic club like ATK Mohun Bagan, he explained, “I’ve been here in India for two years. We’re playing in an international competition for the entire country. We’re working for our supporters, but also for Indian football.

“It’s a great challenge and we have the entire country to represent. It’s not only necessary to think about our club’s progress, but also that of Indian football.”

Roy Krishna’s availability

Roy Krishna is experiencing some visa issues ahead of this game. Giving an update on him, Juan Ferrando informed, “At this moment, Roy Krishna has some issues with the embassy (visa), but he’s ready to help the team. We’ll see what happens with the squad.

But, at this moment, everyone is ready and (David) Williams is there to make up. We have no issues with injuries, everyone is ready but we have to find the best lineup before the game.”

Preparations for game

When asked about whether his team can be expected to perform at this best level, the Spaniard expressed, “I’m happy because in the last 10 days we worked with the team and I liked it. In the last 10 days, we’ve worked hard, everyone was working with quality and I’m happy right now.

Of course, I like to work on a lot of situations every day, but this is football and we need to think about the next challenge. But, everyone in this club is ready for tomorrow’s match.”

Injury Updates

Juan Ferrando also declared Liston Colao fit for the game, saying, “Everyone is ready and in this case, I’m happy as the medical staff helped him a lot. Everyone is ready for it, including Liston!”

However, when it comes to Sandesh Jhingan, who suffered an injury against Belarus, Ferrando was less optimistic. He said: “We’re waiting on his fitness. To be honest, I prepare the lineup until the last moment possible. As you know, Jhingan faced problems with his knee in the match against Belarus.

But, the mentality of these players is incredible. He’s a strong man and a strong player and we’ll make the best decision for him and the team.”

Finally, when speaking about his plans for the young players in the AFC Cup, Juan Ferrando stated, “For me, all the team, the things are the same. It doesn’t matter if a player is young or experienced. It’s one entire team. Sometimes, it’s necessary to help the young players, they’re a part of the team and it’s necessary to use these players. Joni (Kauko) here is a good teacher and he helps them a lot, along with the other foreign players.

“I’m amazed in training sessions that not only the head coach, but players like Joni, Tiri, Roy, and Carl (McHugh) are talking with the young players on how to time the moment of the pass, how to press well and other things. I love these things. We can play Kiyan (Nassiri), we can play Abhishek (Suryavanshi).

But for me the most important is to play as an entire team. It’s normal for them to make mistakes, we can make mistakes when we’re young and it’s a normal process for everybody,” he added.

Joni Kauko’s thoughts

Joni Kauko was asked about how he’s feeling about life at ATKMB. He said, “I feel really good here. When I arrived here, everyone took me really well. It’s hard to adapt, as it’s very different from the kind of football I’m used to. I’m trying to do my best, but there’s still a lot to improve. I’m trying to do my best for that and I’m excited for tomorrow’s game, to play in front of the large crowd for the first time.”

The last time ATKMB played in the AFC Cup, they lost to FC Nasaf 6-0 last season. That was also Kauko’s debut game, as he recalled, “It wasn’t the best game for me last season in the AFC Cup, as it was my first game for this club. It was tough.

But now, is a new chance to show what we can do. We’ll give our best and I hope in this competition, we’ll be much better than we were last year.”

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