Depleted ATK look to exploit home conditions against FC Goa
A depleted Atletico de Kolkata will look to exploit the home conditions against the mighty FC Goa in a battle between two heavyweights in the first leg semifinal of the Hero Indian Super League football tournament here on Sunday.
Kolkata: A depleted Atletico de Kolkata will look to exploit the home conditions against the mighty FC Goa in a battle between two heavyweights in the first leg semifinal of the Hero Indian Super League football tournament here on Sunday.
The home camp has been reduced to a mini hospital with doubts over the fitness of five key players -- Arnab Mondal, Biswajit Saha, Fikru Teferra and Jofre Mateu, while forward Baljit Singh Sahni has been ruled out because of suspension.
FC Goa, on the other hand, have been boosted by the return of Miroslav Slepicka and Andre Clarindo dos Santos who have scored nine goals between them.
The duo were rested by Zico as the three-time World Cupper opted to test his bench strength with as many as nine changes in their last league match against ATK, after already ensuring a semifinal berth.
But the Brazilian's defence may just look a bit shaky without his influential Portuguese defender Bruno Pinheiro, who was sent off in a dubious fashion in their 1-1 draw against ATK in the previous match.
For ATK, Arnab has twisted his ankle in the previous match and it is unlikely that Antonio Habas will risk his most reliable Indian central defender on an injury-prone artificial surface of Yuva Bharati Krirangan.
While defence looks shaky in the likely absence of Arnab, forward, too, will have issues if Fikru failing to recover in time. He plays the lone striker's role in 4-2-3-1 formation.
As a matter of fact, ATK are yet to win from 10 matches and are in a middle of a slump after a glorious start to the season having held the lead for first nine matches.
Trailing 0-1 at half time, ATK were staring at the exit when the US referee Baldomero Toledo handed them a lifeline by a dubious penalty decision in their favour, and Fikru converted the spot kick to hand them a semifinal berth.
In the current scenario, ATK need some magic as they have to win at any cost to keep their final hopes alive.
Habas will have his options in Arnal Llibert, Cavin Lobo and Bangladesh captain Mamunul Islam, who is yet to get a chance.
Lobo, who had scored a brace in their come-from-behind 1-2 win in Goa, has recovered in time and now he hopes to resume his magical run against the same opponents.
The Goans had opted for a more attacking 4-3-1-2 formation in their match against ATK in the concluding league round and the second string side did well for a 1-1 draw.
However, for the semifinal, Zico will look to bring back his first XI with the striking duo certain to return with Romeo Fernandes, Zohib Amiri and Gregory Arnolin.
Zico also relies on a Habas-like formation and it will be interesting to see whether he opts something different with no Pinheiro in central defence.
Czech forward Slepicka with five goals and four assists is just second in the tally behind Elano Blumer. He would once again pose a threat to ATK. Then there's Brazilian Santos, who can unhinge opponents with his pace, dead ball skills, natural flair and wonderful technique.
The former Arsenal star has been used to brilliant effect by his coach and compatriot Zico, who has made him play as an attacking midfielder from his usual left-back position, something that has yielded them four goals.
The duo's sparkling performance meant that Goa are unbeaten in eight matches. And have emerged as one of the frontrunners to win the title in the first edition of the franchise league.
That they decide on the final by playing the second semifinal leg at home certainly gives them an advantage.
ATK, meanwhile, cannot afford anything less than a win.
Kick off time 1900 hours IST.