Kings look to conquer new ground
Rarely had any of Bangladesh’s professional football clubs taken the AFC-sanctioned club tournament very seriously, so it inevitably followed that the country’s outfits exited the competitions at the pre-qualifying or qualifying stages.
Six-time professional league champions Abahani, along with Sheikh Jamal, Sheikh Russel and Saif Sporting Club got opportunities to play the AFC Cup but none could produce satisfactory results, except in the last edition when Abahani crossed the group stage in their fourth attempt and achieved a rare success by contesting the zonal semifinals.
However, new Bangladesh Premier League champions Bashundhara Kings are eager to buck the trend as the new powerhouses of Bangladesh football are taking the AFC Cup seriously ahead of their debut.
Roping in former Argentinian national striker Harnan Barcos (with a whopping wage of approximately 20,000 USD per month) solely for the tournament underlined their intentions in Asia’s second-tier club tournament, for which they qualified by clinching the BPL title.
Bashundhara reaped the rewards of their tireless preparations for the AFC Cup by notching a huge 5-1 win over TC Sports Club of Maldives in their opening match, before the tournament was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Asian Football Federation (AFC) is set to restart the AFC Cup in late October and participating clubs are priming their respective squads. Kings have once again shown the intent to seize the opportunity by strengthening their squad in the hope of making their debut a memorable one by realising their target to become group champions.
Kings have decided to release all four foreign players except Barcos for the AFC Cup, including the influential Daniel Colindres, and are now searching for replacements.
“We are hopeful of getting quality replacements for the three foreign players. We have already gotten four to five CVs from Iraq, Australia, Argentina and other countries. We are now watching their video clips, analysing their performance and trying to get opinions from known foreign coaches,” club president Imrul Hasan told The Daily Star, hinting that they are looking for a foreign centre-back to rebuild a vulnerable backline.
Coach Oscar Bruzon is also supports singing a foreign centre-back. “Regarding our backline, I would not say we had a problem in the backline itself but in the whole defensive stage [collective defence] as we were missing [because of injuries] ball winners in the midfield such as [Masuk] Zony and [Atiqur Rahman] Fahad,” Bruzon told The Daily Star.
Hasan also revealed plans to rope in a good left-winger, who can assist Barcos.
“We are also trying to find a speedy left-winger to replace Colindres so that he can trouble the opposition backline and create free space for Barcos,” said Hasan, adding that they would also be trying to replace injured local players in case they fail to recover before the resumption of AFC Cup.
Bashundhara Kings have planned a six-week preparation starting from the first week of September to solidify the team combination with possible new signings. They are even thinking of shifting their camp to the Middle East if Qatar hosts the AFC Cup Group E qualifiers.
“Unofficially we have learned that a few countries like Qatar and UAE are interested in hosting Group E qualifiers within the next month, but clubs are not ready. If they agree, then our national footballers will stay back in Qatar to join club training after Bangladesh’s match against Qatar on October 13,” said Hasan.
While Hasan wants Bashundhara Kings to emulate Abahani’s feat, he would love the side to surpass the giants by playing the zonal final in their debut appearance.