Sunday, September 25, 2022

Pune coach Habas challenges former club ATK in inconsequential tie

Kolkata, Dec 1 (IANS) Antonio Lopez Habas will have only pride to play for when he returns to challenge his former club Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) as coach of FC Pune City in an inconsequential Indian Super League (ISL) tie at the Rabindra Sarovar Stadium here on Friday.

Habas, who shepherded ATK to the inaugural title in 2014 followed by a semi-final finish the next season, jumped ship this time to join Pune.

His compatriot Jose Molina took over the reins from the Spaniard and since then ATK have lost only twice but won just four times to scrape to the play-offs, incidentally, at the expense of Pune.

Before ATK’s last game at home against Kerala Blasters, Habas’ Pune (on 15 points from 13 matches) had an outside chance of pulling off a heist. But even that was nipped in the bud with ATK playing out their seventh draw of the campaign and qualifying in the process.

Habas meanwhile, was left to rue the six defeats which cost him the first knockout snub in a competition he has only tasted success.

Molina, after the win against Kerala, spoke of resting some of the key players ahead of the semi-finals.

“The semi-final is the focus now. We might give some players rest as the Pune game gives that opportunity. We want to win the Pune game like we do in every game. But it gives us an opportunity to see the bench,” the former Spain goalkeeper had said after the 1-1 draw.

The good thing for ATK is that striker Helder Postiga was looking at his sharpest in the last game with a lip-smacking assist which also involved Iain Hume. Stephen Pearson scored the goal but the build up to it was magnificent and showed how Postiga and Hume can be a nuisance for rival defenders.

ATK have been dogged by porous defence with the likes of Tiri, Arnab Mondal, and Henrique Sereno spluttering at key moments. Molina said it’s not only the defenders who should be blamed for conceding “silly” goals but the coach will know he has to get his backline right before the team faces bigger fishes like Mumbai City FC or Delhi Dynamos.

Goalkeeper Debjit Mazumder was at fault in the last game, depriving ATK of a victory, but Molina would like to believe that he was an aberration from the Mohun Bagan custodian who has otherwise been in top gear.

The only interest in this tie is Habas standing in the opposition dugout for the first time in Kolkata and Pune fans would hope their team can do an encore of their first meeting with ATK which they won at home.

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