24th May, 6:30 PM IST
‘Miraculous’ – one word to describe Dempo Sports Club’s presence in Iraq. Down in the dumps after the 9-0 humiliation to Nasaf, Dempo showed tremendous character and strength to fight back and be in a position to qualify on the final matchday of the group stage. Thanks to other results in the group that went their way, Dempo needed a win in their final group game against Al Ansar at Balewadi and hoped that Nasaf hammer Al Tilal at home to complete the miraculous comeback.
Before the game started, Armando Colaco scribbled on the board in the dressing room – ‘Make it happen’. And with 40 minutes gone, it was already happening. Dempo had the Lebanese side on the mat after pumping in two goals through the boots of Brazilian sensation Beto and skipper Ranti Martins. Dempo’s first was a sublime finish by the Brazilian after a sensational bout of passing and movement that saw the Brazilian exchange a neat one-two with Ranti before slamming the ball home. The second was a brilliant solo effort by Ranti Martins who rounded off a defender and scored from an acute angle.
However, ten minutes into the second half, Dempo’s Rock of Gibraltar – Mahesh Gawli was sent off for a second yellow card leaving Dempo to play the final half an hour with ten men. But the Indian giants defended stoically. Ogba Kalu was asked to fill into Mahesh Gawli’s enormous boots and he did not disappoint his coach, defending and tackling like a born stopper back. A stoppage time goal from Al Ansar ruffled Dempo’s feathers a bit but there was no denying them a place in the knockout round for the third time in their history becoming the only Indian club so far to achieve the said feat. The game took an ugly turn though after the end of the match as Al Ansar players ran berserk destroying the stadium property and accosting the referees.
In Uzbekistan, Nasaf hammered Al Tilal 7-1, confirming Dempo’s place in the Round of 16 against Duhok of Iraq. Duhok finished first in Group C that had the likes of Al Faisaly of Jordan, Al Jaish of Syria and Al Nasr of Kuwait. They finished on 11 points with 3 wins, 2 draws and a lone loss to Al Jaish. Their biggest win came against Al Faisaly at the Duhok Stadium where they won 4-2.
Team news and Tactical brief
Duhok, by virtue of topping their group, have the luxury of playing this vital knockout game at home. The format, though, is a bit unfair in the sense that it is only a one match play-off giving a clear advantage to the home team. Duhok will be the clear favorites considering they are playing on familiar territory.
“We have prepared ourselves for all eventualities, including this possibility that the match could eventually head into extra time. Dempo are no weaklings. They have been playing in the AFC Cup regularly for the past four years and that experience should give them an edge. They know what it takes to progress in this competition and we should not underestimate their abilities. This match is even. We both have a 50-50 chance. I don’t think there are any favorites.” said the Duhok coach, Akram Salman.
Duhok have the entire squad at their disposal and have no suspensions to worry about. Their star player Amad Ismaeel Jarjis, who has scored three goals in the competition, will be a definite threat to the Dempo defence without the suspended Mahesh Gawli. Jasm Mohammad Sulaiman will also look to score against the Dempo defense that has conceded 19 goals in the competition.
Duhok coach Akram Salman, meanwhile, has downplayed his team’s chances and is not taking Dempo lightly in spite of the fact that the I-League Champions look jaded after the enormous amounts of traveling they have done.
“We are not taking Dempo lightly. They are a good side and can cause us real problems,” said the coach of the Group C winners.
Dempo are in Iraq without their three main players. Mahesh Gawli is suspended after picking up a red card against Al Ansar. Beto has also not made the trip due to a double booking while left-back Debabrata Roy missed the flight due to visa problems. Beto’s and Mahesh’s absence will be a big blow for Dempo as they aim to make their second quarterfinal appearance in the AFC Cup. India bound Armando Colaco has told his players to enjoy the game and not bother much about the result.
“I have told the boys that they need not worry about the result. The idea is to enjoy the game,” he said. “Duhok are an unknown entity to us. I have not managed to have a look at their videos but I have heard that they are extremely tough opponents, especially when playing at home. We are going into the match with an open mind and that should be advantageous to us.”
“My team has hardly had any rest but despite the hectic schedule they have always put their best foot forward. We have the I-League to take care of back home and I don’t want them to be under any pressure.” He rued the fact that they had so much traveling to do in the last month or so.” It’s tough on the players. All this travel and matches are without sufficient rest. I just want them to enjoy this game,” added Colaco.
In the absence of Mahesh, John Dias will most likely partner Iranian Rouhollah Semieinia at centre-back while Valeriano Rebello and Samir Naik will start at right and left-back respectively. Climax Lawrence, Clifford Miranda, Peter Carvalho and Ogba Kalu will complete the midfield. Young Joaquim Abranches will partner skipper Ranti Martins up front. Subashish Roy Chowdhury will be in between the sticks. Dempo will have to play possession football and build up play from the back. Beto will be sorely missed but they will have the services of energetic Abranches who will be more than a handful for the Duhok defense. Abrahanches and company, though, will be up against the towering central defenders of Duhok that have conceded just three goals so far in the competiton.
There’s no lack of motivation for Dempo’s players. A win will give them a place in the quarter-finals for the second time. They also have the I-league battle to fight for. This one week will define Dempo’s season. They could be heroes in a week’s time, or come out empty-handed.
Duhok SC 3-1 Dempo SC
TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For
Joaquim Abranches (Dempo), Amad Ismaeel Jarjis (Duhok)