Dempo, Al Ansar may play safe

March 10th, 2008 - 4:42 pm ICT by admin  

Margao (Goa), March 10 (IANS) They both claim they will play to win, but neither Dempo Sports Club nor Al Ansar of Lebanon will kick themselves if they grab only a point in the AFC Cup Group A opener at Goa’s Nehru Stadium Tuesday. The AFC Cup - Asia’s second tier club competition - kicks off on Tuesday with 20 teams from East, West and Central Asia fighting for the eight available slots in the knock out stage.

India’s I-League champions Dempo Sports Club are battling to field what coach Mauricio Afonso calls a “competitive squad” with almost half of its first team players on the sidelines.

Stopper-back Dominic Noronha joined the long list of casualties - Mahesh Gawli, Anthony Pereira, Valerian Rebello, Peter Carvalho, Satish Kumar, Clifford Miranda and Jerry Zirsanga - after injuring his knee during training Monday morning.

Dominic’s knee injury means rookie defender Cressan Antao will have to be drafted into the side to partner John Dias for the first time this season.

Winger Melwyn Rodrigues will also be handed his first start after having no role to play for Dempo Sports Club in the I-League.

“We find ourselves in an extremely difficult situation,” coach Mauricio admitted after training Monday.

The only hope for Dempo is their quality foreign imports - Roberto Mendes da Silva, Edeh Chidi and Ranty Martins - all of whom are in cracking form.

Dempo’s lack of bench strength was exposed when Sporting Clube de Goa upset them 1-0 in the Goa Governor’s Cup final Saturday. And coach Mauricio knows he will not have it easy against the visiting Lebanese side.

“Al Ansar are no weaklings,” he told IANS, before continuing: “Lebanese teams have always troubled us in the competition. We need to be at our real best to take something away from the game tomorrow.”

Mauricio has a valid point as no visiting Lebanese team - Al Nejmeh and Al Ahed in the past two years to be precise - has lost in Goa.

At full-strength, Lebanese Super Cup champions Al Ansar, who narrowly lost out on a quarterfinal berth in the AFC Cup last year, appear strong on paper, but their concern will be beyond the field.

“The weather is a cause for concern,” Al Ansar coach Jamil Taha told reporters when they arrived in Goa.

“We are not used to playing in such (hot and humid) conditions with matches mostly played under lights in Lebanon,” he continued.

Al Ansar will hope their foreign strikers - Edilson Silva (Brazil) and Abdul Kadar (Syria) - capitalise on what looks like a sluggish home defence and fire upfront.

Iraqi defender Saleh Sider is the other foreign element in Al Ansar, who lost just one match in last year’s competition.

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