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regular-article-logo Sunday, 26 May 2024

AFC Cup: 'Double header' brings joy but feet firmly on ground

Anwar Ali lends Bagan solidity

DIPTAYAN HAZRA Calcutta Published 18.08.23, 09:10 AM
Subhasish Bose of Mohun Bagan Super Giant jumps on defender Anwar Ali (front) after the latter scored one of his two goals against Machhindra FC of Nepal during the AFC Cup qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday.

Subhasish Bose of Mohun Bagan Super Giant jumps on defender Anwar Ali (front) after the latter scored one of his two goals against Machhindra FC of Nepal during the AFC Cup qualifier at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday. Santosh Ghosh

Anwar Ali was soaking in all the adulation after Mohun Bagan Super Giant's AFC Cup qualifier against Machhindra FC of Nepal at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday.

The 3-1 win at the near-empty stadium helped Bagan to book a playoff tie against Abahani Dhaka at the same venue on August 22.

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Ali scored his first goals for his new club and both came off headers. Another new signing Jason Cummings also opened his account but Ali was the cynosure on Wednesday.

"Scoring goals is always nice. I am delighted. I try to follow coach's (Juan Ferrando) instructions when it comes to set-piece movements," Ali said at the post-match news conference.

Ali had come to the limelight during India's Under-17 World Cup campaign in 2017 but a heart ailment in 2019 saw the All India Football Federation ban him from playing. But Delhi High Court gave a verdict in Anwar's favour, allowing him to ply his trade in professional football.

"My past is well documented. I have buried it and now I am
focusing on my future. The only thing that matters right now is my football and I will try to give my best. Whenever I am on the pitch, my goal is to give one hundred per cent to my team," he said.

Ali idolises former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. "I am a big fan of Ramos," the 22-year-old said.

Bagan coach Ferrando said he was happy to win a "challenging game".

"The game was challenging. The opposition played well in the first half and didn't give us much space. In the second half we played better in terms of ball possession and attacking," he said.

Bagan missed quite a few chances against the Nepal side but the Spaniard is not worried. "We might have squandered goal-scoring chances, but that's okay. This is our pre-season. We are progressing step by step. Winning challenging matches is the main focus."

"We started our pre-season two weeks ago. Many footballers are playing in the CFL and Durand
Cup simultaneously. Therefore, fitness is a challenge for the players. We are hopeful of improvement as the players are getting into good shape."

Emami East Bengal have already qualified for the Durand quarter finals from Group A with a solitary-goal victory over Punjab FC on Wednesday. Bagan will now hope to earn a last-eight berth as one of the two best second-placed teams. With a goal difference of six, they have a good chance of advancing.

Ferrando asked for patience. "Both domestic and foreign players require time, they need game time to adapt to the new environment. We have a good squad and with every match, the team will improve."

Ashique Kuruniyan picked up an injury and was stretchered off. However, Ferrando allayed fears and said the midfielder's injury was not too serious. "He will be fine," the coach said.

The writer is an intern with The Telegraph

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