Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen said the I-League is tougher than the AFC Cup. Speaking to the media ahead of the second leg of their AFC Cup play-off tie against Maldives’ Club Valencia here on Monday, Sen sidestepped the question to compare the two but rated India’s apex league higher than Asia’s second-tier tournament.
“I am not here to differentiate…there are some restrictions. But I-League is tougher than the AFC Cup,” said Sen. Asked again after the media conference, Sen said “definitely.” On both occasions, he didn’t elaborate.
The only unbeaten team in the I-League, Mohun Bagan, are third in the standings with 21 points from nine rounds, three less than leaders East Bengal who have played two games more.
Mohun Bagan drew the away leg 1-1 and need a goalless draw to qualify for the group stages. But though Sen termed this a “must-win” match where they would be ‘starting from zero’ and seeking to win “by a handsome margin”, he also said Mohun Bagan would rest a number of players on Tuesday.
Duffy, Pronay rested
Among them will be striker Darryl Duffy and central midfielder Pronay Halder, said Sen, adding that a number of first-team players would start on the bench. “I don’t believe in rotating players but would definitely want to give some of them rest. We are playing four-five games in 10-12 days,” said Sen.
Beginning with the tie against East Bengal in Siliguri on February 12, Mohun Bagan have played four matches in I-League and the AFC Cup in 10 days. They had a week’s break after the away tie against Club Valencia on February 21 but will play Churchill Brothers (March 4, away), Mumbai FC (March 8, home) and Bengaluru FC (March 11, away). Should they qualify to the main round of the AFC Cup, Mohun Bagan will meet Bengaluru FC again in that tournament, away on March 14.
Wide left medio Sony Norde is likely to start but resting Duffy could mean Mohun Bagan would begin with an all-Indian attacking duo of Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh.
Club Valencia, who will need to win or score a minimum of two goals in a draw to qualify without tie-breakers, have got three foreigners, all Nigerians, here, said coach Ahmed Mujuthaba. They are: striker and goalscorer in the last match Godfrey West, midfielder Chinonye Chinda and defender Chizi Chinda. Goalkeeper Mohamed Faisal and skipper and defender Shafiu Ahmed played against India in the last SAFF Championship.