Karshi Central Stadium, Uzbekistan
April 27, 1500 hours GMT
It’s make or break time for Dempo Sports Club as they take on AFC Cup favourites Nasaf FC in their own den in Uzbekistan. Dempo are currently in third spot, 3 points behind Al Ansar and desperately need at least a draw while hoping that other results go their way. However, they are up against a side that demolished them 4-0 at the Balewadi Sports Complex when the two sides met two weeks ago. Dempo were completely outplayed on that day and will look to put up a much better performance and hope the result of the other game between Al Ansar and Al Tilal goes their way.
It looks like a walk in the park for Anatoly Demayenko’s men who are unbeaten in their group. They were tipped by Armando Colaco to win the AFC Cup after watching their performance in the previous game. Nevertheless, Demayenko preferred to downplay his team’s chances. “The fact that we beat Dempo with a score of 4-0 on their ground bears no relation to tomorrow’s match,” he said. “That match was a long time ago. We need to be tuned into the match against Dempo very seriously”, added the former USSR player of the year.
In their weekend game in the Uzbekistan League, Nasaf drew with Bukhara and lost top spot in the league to Bunyodkor but Demayenko will know that the AFC Cup is a different ball game and he will be full of confidence. “In every tournament, we set ourselves the maximum task. Therefore, regardless of the opponents’ strength, we are entering the field to win. I’m pleased with how we have prepared for the match against Dempo. We do not have any injured or suspended players in the squad. Ivan Boskovic is fully fit and ready to play for 90 minutes.” he said referring to one of their star strikers, the Serbian, Boskovic. When the two sides met in Pune, Pereplotkins Andrejs, Turaev Lutfulla, Yunusov Ilhom and Mirhoidirshaev Shuratbek scored for the visitors. In fact they raced to a 2-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes giving Dempo a mountain to climb in the second half.
Dempo will have to play a much improved game if they are to take anything from this match. They are up against several odds. Firstly, they have the cold Uzbekistan climate to counter where temperatures fall up to 2 degrees Celsius. Secondly, and crucially, their inspirational coach Armando Colaco is indisposed and hasn’t traveled with the team. On top of all that, to make matters even worse, their star defender Rouhollah Semieinia is suspended due to a double booking and Mahesh Gawli is a doubtful starter.
However, assistant coach Mauricio Afonso remains unfazed and is confident that his team will fight well against the giants. “After the match against Nasaf, we had two games in the Indian league and won both. Therefore, the mood among our players is good,” he said referring to their 5-2 win over Indian Arrows and 3-1 win over table toppers Salgaocar Sports Club in the I-League. “Defeat with a score of 4-0 has already become history and tomorrow we will come out on the field with a desire to win”, added the former India player. Mauricio Afonso was also at the helm of affairs when Dempo reached the semi finals of the AFC Cup in 2008 as Armando Colaco suffered a bike accident at that time and missed the quarterfinals. He will look to draw inspiration from that time and hope Dempo will come out with a repeat performance. Despite all the setbacks he remained confident that his team would be brave on the pitch and try and create problems for Nasaf. “At the same time matches with one of the leading clubs in Uzbekistan for us, it’s a good experience. We have a lot to learn from Nasaf,” he signed off.
In the absence of Rouhollah Semeinia, John Dias is likely to take his place but the biggest blow for Dempo in defence would be if Mahesh Gawli is declared unfit to take the field. In that event, Covan Lawrence or Domnic Noronha will be entrusted with the task of stopping Nasaf’s deadly strikers who have scored 10 goals in 3 games in the competition. The rest of the Dempo line-up looks the same. Ranti and Beto will play up front even though Beto is carrying a slight niggle. Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda. Peter Carvalho and Ogba Kalu will complete the midfield. Mauricio also will have Godwin Franco and Joaquim Abranches to throw on as substitutes.
Dempo still have a chance of reaching the knockout stages but the game between Al Ansar and Al Tilal will be crucial to their survival hopes. Dempo have received a shot in the arm with the news that their away game against Al Tilal has been shifted to Goa due to the civil unrest in Yemen. Assuming Dempo win in Goa and also defeat Al Ansar in Pune, they will finish with 9 points in the event they lose against Nasaf today. If Al Ansar do not win their games against Al Tilal and Nasaf, then Dempo will clinch second spot comfortably. So there’s still plenty to play for, for Dempo’s players. But their task is definitely cut out. It could also finally come down to goal difference which makes it imperative for Dempo not to lose big today against Nasaf. A draw or a win would be the icing on the cake though. Football is a funny game. We all know that.
The Hard Tackle’s prediction
Nasaf Qarshi FC 2-0 Dempo SC
TheHardTackle predicts no surprises here as the professional giants Nasaf will steamroll the Indian club. Dempo are expected to put up a better fight than their 4-0 drubbing, though.