Sat, 09 Dec 2023

Bhubaneswar (Odisha) [India], September 19 (ANI): Debutants Odisha FC will host the Indian Super League (ISL) Cup winners, Mohun Bagan Super Giant, in their opening clash in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup 2023-24 group stage at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday.

Odisha FC are set to make their debut in the continental championship after earning direct qualification to the group stages of the AFC Cup by clinching the 2023 Super Cup and winning the subsequent Club play-off against Gokulam Kerala FC, as per an ISL press release.

The Mariners are participating in the AFC Cup for the third consecutive year. They emerged as the ISL Cup winners and defeated Hyderabad FC in the Club play-off to secure their place in the AFC Cup qualifying round, where they overcame Nepal's Machhindra FC in the preliminary stage and Bangladesh's Abahani Dhaka in the playoff round to secure their spot in Group D.

The Juggernauts will try to give their best as they have secured their passage to the prestigious AFC Cup for the first time in the club's history. Meanwhile, the Mariners, with prior experience playing in Asia's second-tier tournament, will not make it easy for Odisha, as they have been in red-hot form over the past couple of months.

Odisha FC underwent a massive overhaul during the summer transfer window. It began with the hiring of Sergio Lobera as the head coach and the acquisition of ISL-experienced foreign players, including Ahmed Jahouh, Mourtada Fall, Roy Krishna, and Cy Goddard. In addition, they bolstered their squad by bringing in well-known Indian talents like Jerry Lalrinzuala, Puitea, and Amey Ranawade.

"Not only are we playing a competition for the club, we will be representing India at the AFC level. It is a new challenge for us and we are ready. We had a good pre-season, so we are well prepared. We all are excited to play in the competition. We need to enjoy8239;the8239;game," said Lobera in the pre-match press conference.

Having been knocked out in the inter-zone playoff semi-finals in their previous two attempts, Mohun Bagan Super Giant have spared no effort in forming an even stronger side this time to pose a significant challenge to the heavyweights in the AFC Cup. Head coach Juan Ferrando will be aiming for a solid start to change the club's past fortunes in the continental tournament.

"For us, this is an important match as it is for Odisha FC. We have worked hard in preparation for this because it will be very difficult. They have a very good squad with very good players. It is necessary for us to focus throughout the 90 minutes because if we lapse in one moment or in one detail, then Odisha can create a lot of opportunities," said Ferrando at the pre-match press conference.

It is going to be an exciting battle between the two ISL clubs, as only the group topper will get a chance to qualify for the next round.

Form Guide-Mohun Bagan Super Giant- Win, Win, Win, WinMohun Bagan Super Giant started the season on a very positive note, as they lifted the Durand Cup title earlier this month after beating their arch-rivals, East Bengal FC. They also showcased a confident performance in the qualifying round of the AFC Cup group stage. The Mariners are unbeaten in their last five outings.

-Odisha FC- Loss, Win, Loss, WinOdisha FC fielded their reserve squad for the 132nd Durand Cup tournament. Their senior team went to Thailand for a pre-season tour, and they had a pretty good outing during the camp. With no injury concerns, the Juggernauts are expected to field their best possible team.

Key PlayersMohun Bagan Super Giant-Dimitri PetratosPetratos has consistently showcased his brilliance during the ISL 2022-23 season. The Australian forward's game-changing performances have rescued the team on numerous occasions. His form has remained top-notch this season, and it was his skilful left-footed curler that helped MBSG secure the Durand Cup title.

-Anwar AliAli wasted no time securing a spot in MBSG's first XI and has proven to be a standout player for the Mariners. This ball-playing defender has had a significant impact, both defensively and as a goal-scoring threat. Ali's presence has fortified MBSG's defence, providing added strength and stability.

Odisha FC-Diego MauricioThe Brazilian striker continues to demonstrate his value every time he steps onto the field. The ISL 2022-23 Golden Boot winner poses a massive threat to the opposing defenders whenever he ventures into the scoring zone. His goal-scoring prowess and quality runs down the wings introduce a valuable strategic dimension to his team.

-Ahmed JahouhJahouh possesses exceptional qualities that make him one of the best midfielders in the ISL. The Moroccan is set to begin his third spell with Lobera. Jahouh's experience and versatility are going to be assets for Odisha FC.

Head-to-Head RecordMBSG and OFC have previously met seven times. Among these encounters, MBSG emerged victorious in four games, while the remaining three ended in draws. Interestingly, Ferrando has failed to secure a win against Lobera in their past four meetings. (ANI)

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