AFC Cup: BFC lock horns with ATK Mohun Bagan in all-India affair
Bengaluru FC will have an opportunity to record their first win against familiar foes ATK Mohun Bagan since 2019 when they lock horns in an AFC Cup Group D match here on Wednesday.
BFC head coach Marco Pezzaiuoli's side will head into the clash having not defeated ATK Mohun Bagan since the Indian Super League two years ago, with the Italian claiming that makes his team's rivals the favourites.
Pezzaiuoli though said his side would have to be at their best at the National Stadium. Bengaluru, who defeated Club Eagles 1-0 in the playoff on Sunday, are grouped alongside ATK Mohun Bagan, Bashundhara Kings and Maziya S&RC, with only one team set to qualify for the Inter-zone playoff semifinals.
"Our last game was only two days ago, so it was a short recovery for the team. It's not really an advantage, but I can see the glass either as half empty or half full, and I choose to see it half full.
"There was a good spirit and positive energy in the team after the win. We need to be very sharp against ATK Mohun Bagan, because I am expecting an aggressive game," said Pezzaiuoli, speaking at the pre-match press conference.
ATK Mohun Bagan, who qualified for the group stages of the competition by virtue of the erstwhile Mohun Bagan's victorious 2019-20 I-League campaign, have recruited strongly since their defeat to Mumbai City FC in the 2020-21 Indian Super League final.
Pezzaiuoli believes the Blues will have their task cut out on Wednesday.
The Kolkata-based side have added several players to their squad over the summer, including the likes of French midfielder Hugo Boumous, Amrinder Singh, Liston Colaco, Ashutosh Mehta, Bidyananda Singh and Deepak Tangri.
"ATK Mohun Bagan like to play a lot of long passes, go for the second ball and press high up on the pitch, which calls for a different approach from us. But they have also changed things in the summer, by bringing in a French foreigner (Hugo Boumous), among other players.
"This shows that they want to win the Indian Super League and the AFC Cup. We have to be in good spirit, show good focus and I am certain that we have a chance of winning tomorrow," Pezzaiuoli added.
ATK Mohun Bagan head coach Antonio López is equally confident of his side's chances against Bengaluru FC.
"With all that is happening with the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of participation from our foreign stars, we are (still) looking forward to doing our best in the competition."
López's team last played competitively in the Indian Super League final in March against Mumbai City and the Spanish tactician admits that the long break between games may not necessarily be an advantage for his team.
"I know we have not kicked the ball for a while and obviously our players have had adequate rest but that doesn't mean we have the clear advantage. I don't believe in this philosophy as I think the team who shows more desire will win tomorrow."
Jayesh Rane scored the only goal of the game when the Blues beat Club Eagles, and with only three games to play in the group stages, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said the task at hand was one that required focus and commitment from all corners.
"It's true that things are different this time, because there are fewer games to play in the Group. But it is still difficult, and we have to be focused. It was important for us to get into the Group Stage because we want to do well in Asia, as a club," said Gurpeet.