Saif Sporting Club hope to make their beginning in an Asian club competition a memorable one with a positive result against Maldivian outfit TC Sports Club today.
The two sides will meet in the first leg of the preliminary stage (pre-playoff) of the AFC Cup, the second-tier club competition in Asia, at the Bangabandhu National Stadium, with the match scheduled to begin at 3:00pm and telecasted live on ATN Bangla.
Despite finishing fourth in their maiden appearance in the Bangladesh Premier League, Saif SC got the chance to represent Bangladesh in the AFC Cup alongside league champions Abahani, thanks to the non-eligibility of the second and third place finishers. The newcomers want to grab this opportunity with both hands by making an impression first up.
“Tomorrow's match is the most precious one for Saif SC and for Bangladesh. We will be playing for not only the club, but also the country,” team captain Jamal Bhuiyan expressed during the pre-match press conference at the BFF House yesterday.
However, the ground reality is the home team cannot be called favourites for this fixture, due to their own issues and also considering the strength of the opposition.
Due to their lack of strength, the club management had to borrow players from other clubs for the AFC Cup, eight of whom are on loan from Chittagong Abahani, including veteran winger Zahid Hossain and striker Tawhidul Alam Sabuj as well as Nigerian striker from Kingsley Chigozie from Mohammedan. These acquisitions should, on paper, make the team a much stronger one, but the club hardly had the time to make the older players gel with the new ones. They played their last game of the league on January 13 before playing their first match of the Independence Cup three days later.
“We've had to integrate some new players, which was challenging,” Saif SC coach Ryan Northmore opined. “It's an advantage to bring in quality players, but the challenge is to get them used to the system. We need to get the understanding on and off the pitch,”
To aid Northmore, the team management hired veteran coach Maruful Haque, who has coached most of the players both at the club and national levels, as an advisor for this competition.
However, combination and conditioning may not be the biggest challenge for Saif SC; rather it could be the form and stature of the opposition, TC Sports Club, who finished second in the Maldives Premier League in the just-concluded season, apart from becoming runners-up in their domestic President's Cup a month ago.
Mohammad Nazim, who has been coaching the club for the last three seasons, is confident about taking a positive result back home. “We hope we will continue the same way like the last time we were here,” Nazim said, alluding to their winning the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup title in Chittagong last year.
The Maldivian was quietly confident about his team's chances though. “I will never play for a draw... I would rather be underdogs and take a win back home,” Nazim said, while his opposite number, Northmore, was more intent on adopting a balanced approach so that there is still all to play for in the return leg, which will be held in Male on January 30.