Williams helps ATK Mohun Bagan qualify for AFC Cup zonal semis

  • Australian’s equaliser fetches draw against Bangladesh’s Basundhara Kings in last group game.
ATK Mohun Bagan qualify for AFC Cup zonal semis(ATK Mohun Bagan / Twitter)
ATK Mohun Bagan qualify for AFC Cup zonal semis(ATK Mohun Bagan / Twitter)
Updated on Aug 24, 2021 09:41 PM IST
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ByDhiman Sarkar, Kolkata

Roy Krishna is ATK Mohun Bagan’s goal machine but every now and then, his friend David Williams takes pressure off the Fijian. Like he did in Male on Tuesday; Williams’ equaliser helping ATK Mohun Bagan hold a 10-man Basundhara Kings 1-1 and qualify for the inter-zonal semi-final of the AFC Cup as South Asian Zone champions.

With two wins and a draw, ATK Mohun Bagan ended the group stage with seven points, two more than Kings. This was the first time since 2018 that an Indian team has made the zonal semi –finals where Bagan will play the winners of Uzbekistan’s Nasaf and Turkmenistan’s Ahal on September 22.

Without the suspended Hugo Boumous, Bagan made it clear from the off that the onus would be on Kings, for whom this group D game was a must win, to take the initiative. The frontline didn’t press and when Bagan had the ball, it would be played wide from where Liston Colaco or Manvir Singh would try and run at the Kings’ defence. It almost worked and Colaco found himself inside the area after a Carl McHugh free-kick came his way via Krishna. Colaco went past one player but delayed and was dispossessed.

Bagan then absorbed a spell of pressure for failing to clear their lines following a free-kick from Robinho, the Kings’ goal-scoring left-side forward from Brazil. A crucial block from Subhasish Bose and a header from McHugh finally helped them get the ball out and just when it looked Kings would amp up the pressure, Colaco almost struck.

This time it wasn’t a long ball but a smart ball from Krishna into space which Williams collected. The Australian turned one way and then another taking the Kings’ central defenders with him before laying it up for Colaco. With an empty net because goalie Anisur Rahman Zico too was out of position, Colaco ran in and dragged his 18th minute shot wide. Soon after, Colaco moved in from the left and delivered which Manvir Singh laid down for Krishna whose back-volley went over. ATK Mohun Bagan came close again, off a Colaco free-kick which was circulated back to McHugh who punted it for Krishna. The Fijian could only force a corner-kick which was defended.

And then, from almost nothing, Kings went ahead. The Brazilian midfielders Fernandes and Robinho formed a tag team on the right edge of Bagan’s penalty area. Lenny Rodrigues first and then Williams hesitated in going for the challenge and Fernandes, a former Botafogo player who had seven goals and 13 assists in the Bangladesh Premier League which ended earlier this month, beat Amrinder Singh at the near post with a grounder.

The last time ATK Mohun Bagan went into a game needing a draw --- and with it a berth in the 2022 AFC Champions League --- they had lost to Mumbai City FC. This was also the second time in as many games of their maiden Asian tournament that they were trailing.

Krishna and Williams went close, the latter with a stiff long-ranger, but what turned the game was Kings’ wide right Sushanto Tripura backing into Bose and somewhat surprisingly being given the red card. That Kings had four players on a yellow --- they ended with five, three more than ATK Mohun Bagan --- in the first half was proof of dangerous play and physical challenges. “They saw a red card because of the way they played. That is why at half-time I told the team to stick to what it was doing,” said ATK Mohun Bagan coach Antonio Lopez Habas.

Now Kings had to protect the lead with a player light. In the 62nd minute, their resistance collapsed. Colaco found space down the left --- the area Tripura would be patrolling with left back Bishwanath Ghosh -- cut in and played to Williams who calmly slotted home. Williams could then have got the winner but shanked his shot after Zico had saved his first attempt from distance only for Krishna to find him on the rebound.

With the Kings making one last push for another goal --- they had dropped points against Bengaluru FC and so needed to win -- ATK Mohun Bagan ended the game like they began, by getting men behind the ball. Only this time, it was way more nervy. But barring a Robinho effort from distance which Singh spilled before collecting in the 83rd minute, there wasn’t much from Kings that troubled Habas’ men.

“We had the better chances and controlled the game. An afternoon game becomes difficult because of the heat and the humidity but we didn’t have much experience on the bench so substitutions were difficult. Proud of the professionalism of the squad and happy to have qualified after only 20 days of training,” said Habas.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021