After a remarkable run in the league phase of their Indian Super League campaign, Hyderabad FC take on ATK Mohun Bagan in the first leg of the semifinal here at the GMC Balayogi Athletic Stadium in Gachibowli on Thursday, March 9.
Manolo Marquez’s side qualified for the semifinals for the second consecutive season with a second placed finish in the league stage while the visitors beat Odisha FC in the knockout to set up this crunching tie.
The two teams also faced off in the playoffs last season, with Hyderabad knocking the Mariners out 3-2 on aggregate after two hard fought games at Bambolim.
Juan Ferrando’s side finished third, but eight points behind Hyderabad, in the league table. However, they are one of the in-form sides in the competition having won each of their last three games, scoring at least two goals in each outing.
The likes of Dimitri Petratos, Hugo Boumous, Manvir Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan and Liston Colaco have been brilliant on their day and will be the danger men for Hyderabad. Vishal Kaith, who has 10 clean sheets to his name, has been ably supported by a steady backline, that Hyderabad will look to break this Thursday.
Speaking ahead of this game, HFC Head Coach Manolo Marquez said that this will be yet another close game. “ATK Mohun Bagan are one of the strongest sides in the competition. We were clinical in the playoffs last season and were able to beat a side that were really good in both legs” he said.
“Now, they have a good momentum, better than when they came here in the league stage a month ago. They also have a few players coming back from injury and have a really strong squad. But we have a really good team too and we will be hard to beat if we put in a strong performance,” added the Spaniard.
Hyderabad FC, who beat Kerala Blasters in the final league game, will be back in action after almost two weeks. Bartholomew Ogbeche, the top goalscorer for the club, along with Javi Siverio, Joel Chianese, Borja Herrera, Mohammad Yasir and Halicharan Narzary have all been superb in front of goal this season.
But it is the backline, supported by a fearless Gurmeet Singh, that makes them a really tough side to face. Hyderabad are the best defensive side in the league so far, and will face an ATK Mohun Bagan side that have scored the least number of goals among the teams still alive in the competition.
This will give them confidence ahead of this game and Coach Manolo Marquez revealed that his side are relishing this chance to defend their trophy. “Every team that have reached this stage will want to go to the final. The expectations are high, and any team can go and win the final as well,” said the Spaniard.
“But our team has a group of players that everyone will remember for years to come. It will be a difficult game for us, but it will be a difficult game for them as well,” he added.
Both games in the league stage between the two sides ended in a 1-0 victory for the home side with Boumous and Ogbeche scoring the winners in Kolkata and Hyderabad, respectively.
And if history between the sides is anything to go by, this game promises to be yet another close contest between two sides that hate to lose.
This is the first knockout ISL fixture at the Gachibowli Stadium and is much awaited in the city of Hyderabad. The game kicks-off at 7:30 pm IST on Thursday and will be telecasted live on the Star Sports Network with live streaming on Disney+ Hotstar and JioTV.