Coached by Juricic Srecko ofCroatia
Sunday, September 08, 2002
Double header football ties set to bowl over cricket-crazy Sri Lankans
KUALA LUMPUR: Cricket crazy Sri Lanka will be bowled over early next week by a double header of football matches in the new Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Champions League.
The 25,000 capacity Sugathadesa Stadium in the capital Colombo is expected to be packed to the rafters as Sri Lanka Air Force take on New Radiant of the Maldives in qualifying round one (East) of Asia’s flagship tournament on Tuesday.
The following evening Saunders face Indian cracks Mohun Bagan, who lay claim to being the oldest club side in Asia, in the first leg of their qualifying encounter.
Interest in Sri Lanka is high for the matches, which kick off the qualifying rounds in East Asia. The new AFC Champions League, which offers US$500,000 in prize money for the winners, has replaced the Asian
Club Championship, the Asian Cup Winners’ Cup and the Asian Super Cup and is the continent’s Premier club competition.
Fifty-one sides from 29 countries entered the tournament which rewards clubs with cash handouts of US$10,000 from the early stages.
According to Mohun Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya, the Calcutta giants need to win big in Colombo to ensure their task is made easier in the return leg match at the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta.
“Our fans are a discerning lot and we are in no mood to disappoint them when playing at home. A good win in Colombo will make our task in Calcutta easier. But we expect this to be a tough match. Saunders are no pushover and playing at home always gives a team the added incentive to succeed,” said Subrata.
Mohun Bagan will be counting on Indian star forward Baichung Bhutia who had a spell with English Second Division side Bury, and Brazilian import strike partner, Jose Ramirez Barreto to deliver the goods.
Bhutia is at the moment in England with the Indian national team who are playing a series of friendly matches against English clubs and also, playing the Jamaican national team.
Saunders coach P.D. Sirisena is equally upbeat about his team's chances against a strong Mohun Bagan.
“We have been training for the last three months to prepare ourselves against Mohun Bagan. We hope to put on a good show, which in turn will produce a good result when we meet next month,” he said.
The last time both clubs met was 25 years ago when the score line ended in a 2-2 draw. Saunders has four national players at their disposal – Isuru Pereira, Chathura Maduranga, Imran Mohamed and Dstean Wall to lead them to glory.
While Mohun Bagan has three foreigners in their ranks – two Nigerians and Barreto – Saunders has none. This makes the club heavily reliant on their four national players.
Coach Subrata also noted that the good cash incentives being offered to teams for advancing to the different stages of the AFC Champions League, is reason enough to want to win.
The winners of the two-leg battle will be pitted in the next round against the mighty Shimizu S-Pulse, winners of the 2000 Asian Cup Winners’ Cup and 2001 Emperor’s Cup in Japan.
Over in West Asia, in other matches of the AFC Champions League, Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan play Jordan's Al-Wihdat in a second round match on Sept 11. The match is being played at the Pakhtakor Stadium in Tashkent City.
Al Wihdat made the second round after beating Al Nejmeh of Lebanon 3-2 in the first leg and securing a scoreless draw in the return leg last month.
In another second round match, Al Ahli of UAE take on Al Kuwait of Kuwait. Al Ahli plays at home in Dubai. This will be another tough encounter.
Al Ahli, champions of the President's Cup at home, are coached by Juricic Srecko of Croatia. The seriousness of their approach to the AFC Champions League match is best underlined by the fact that the side underwent a four-week training camp in Egypt and Germany.
The good news is that Al Ahli will have the services of four of its national players for the match against Al Kuwait.
The UAE Football Association has given the club the consent to field the players who are in training with the national team in Malaysia.
The four, key players in the Al Ahli side are, striker Faisal Khalil, midfielders Salim Khamis, Hasan Ali Ibrahim and defender Mohammed Qassim. They will fly back from Malaysia to join their club for the clash against Al Kuwait.
Al Ahli will also have the services of Ali Karimi who has been given permission by the Iranian Football Association to play in the AFC Champions League match.
Karimi was involved in the West Asia Football Tournament being held in Syria.
The second foreign player who will feature for Al Ahli is Kelvin Sebwe of Liberia.
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