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AFC Cup: How can Gokulam Kerala or ATK Mohun Bagan qualify to knockouts?

ATK Mohun Bagan have the momentum but Gokulam Kerala can bounce back from their last match defeat and qualify for the AFC Cup knock-out stage.

Gokulam Keralas Luka Majcen scored a brace against ATK Mohun Bagan (Source: Gokulam Kerala/Twitter)
Gokulam Kerala's Luka Majcen scored a brace against ATK Mohun Bagan (Source: Gokulam Kerala/Twitter)


Updated: 2022-05-23T17:05:44+05:30

ATK Mohun Bagan have the momentum but Gokulam Kerala can bounce back from their last match defeat and qualify for the AFC Cup knock-out stage in their maiden appearance when the two Indian clubs face their respective opponents on Tuesday.

All the four teams in Group D -- ATKMB, Gokulam, Bashundhara Kings of Bangladesh and Maziya Sports & Recreation of Maldives -- are currently on three points each after a win and a loss apiece.

I-League champions Gokulam play Bashundhara in the first match (4:30pm) on Tuesday, while Indian Super League side ATKMB will face Maziya in the second game (8:30pm), both at Salt Lake Stadium. One of the two winning teams from Tuesday's two matches will qualify for the Inter-zone play-off semi-finals from South Asia Zone.

ATKMB lost 2-4 to Gokulam in their opening match but bounced back with a 4-0 thrashing of Bashundhara Kings of Bangladesh. Gokulam, on the other hand, suffered a 0-1 defeat to Maziya in their second match on Saturday after their win over ATKMB in the opening game.

How can ATK Mohun Bagan or Gokulam Kerala qualify?

It's a complex permutation and combination but a win for Gokulam over Bashundhara will send ATKMB out of reckoning even if they beat Maziya later in the day. According to Tournament rules, if teams are on same points then head-to-head results will come into play to decide who advances from group stage and Gokulam had beaten ATKMB.

ATKMB's fortunes depend on the first match on Tuesday and they have the luxury to know what they have to do as they play later on the day. If Gokulam manages a draw or lose against Basundhara, ATKMB will qualify for the knock-out round with a win over Maziya. Gokulam will need a favour from ATKMB even if they beat Basundhara because the Kerala-based side can only advance if the Kolkata side win or draw against Maziya.

If the Maldives side beat ATKMB, they will make it to the next round. In any case, there will be no room for error for all the four sides in the race to advance to the Inter-Zone Semi-finals, with only the top team to advance from Group D.

"We are extremely motivated"

Gokulam head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese is not taking anything for granted, having seen his team fall to their first defeat against Maziya after opening their campaign with a 4-2 victory over ATK Mohun Bagan.

"Facing Bashundhara Kings will be totally different as the emotional factor for this game will be important. A lot of my players are finishing their contract terms so we are extremely motivated to give our all in the final group game," said Annese.

"Bashundhara have been champions many times in Bangladesh and if you see in the last game the team had quality players in each position. They are physically stronger than Maziya and have many national team players. It's a huge advantage for them."

Annese also pointed out that Gokulam must be more proactive in attack. "We were fatigued against ATK and Maziya and in this next game we need to start with a different approach seeing that we have enough rest. Our mentality must be attacking from the start and we need to create space and play the ball forward. We have played seven matches in 21 days. To keep our players free from injury and to get enough rest has been difficult. But we have give our all tomorrow."

"The expectation, the energy, the emotion, fighting for each ball, we have to perform at a 100 percent. What the heart wants is to win the match tomorrow."

"We need to concentrate on new plan"

ATK Mohun Bagan head coach Juan Ferrando urged his players to keep their focus on Maziya alone. "It is a big opportunity for us to enter the next round, the players are very tired, but our target remains to get three points," said Ferrando.

"Every game is different, for us we need to concentrate on the new plan for Maziya. Our target remains to register a win against Maziya, we don't want to concentrate on the result of the first game of the day. We are professionals."

The 41-year-old Spaniard, however, is wary of Maziya's prowess, as seen in their 1-0 win over Gokulam two days ago. "The Maziya team come from an incredible league, they always perform very well. The plan is to intercept the transition between the wings. They are very compact. And it's difficult to find spaces. After their win against GKFC, they are surely very motivated."

Tuesday's match will be the sixth clash between the two teams, with each side recording two wins apiece.

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