Following Club Valencia’s knock-out in the playoffs for the AFC Cup 2017, Ooredoo Premier League champions, Maziya Sports and Recreation Club, are to be the sole representative of the Maldives in this year’s tournament under the guidance of their first foreign coach, Marjan Sekulovski.
As Maziya prepare to step into the field, their greatest reassurance is Sekulovski’s repertoire of experience in the AFC Cup. He had previously coached Myanmar’s Ayeyawady United FC and Yangon United FC in the tournament and played against Maziya and New Radiant Sports Club of the Maldives.
Maziya have emerged victorious in all three matches they played under Sekulovski’s guidance so far. They trumped Valencia for the Charity Shield which opened the football season this year, and also overtook Club Eagles and Club Green Street in the Male League.
The club have competed for the AFC Cup several times in the past, and produced results against some powerful opponents though they have yet to advance past the group stage.
There have been some major overhauls to AFC Cup’s format this year, splitting the contenders into the East Zone and West Zone. Maziya are grouped with Bangladesh’s league champions Dhaka Abahani Limited, India’s league champions Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan AC in the East Zone.
Speaking to Mihaaru regarding preparations for the AFC Cup, Coach Sekulovski stated that the tournament’s new format is tougher and more difficult as it allows only one team to succeed the group stage, whereas previously two teams could progress to the next stage.
Nonetheless, he declared that he and Maziya will focus on the immediate matches.
“We don’t want to talk about chances of the knock out stages yet. We are fully focused on going match by match. If we start to talk about everything before the matches, we can’t be good at concentrating on the match,” he said.
Of the teams in East Zone, Bengaluru FC were the runner-ups of last year’s AFC Cup. They had also played against Maziya in the group stage of 2015’s AFC Cup and beat the latter in both games. Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan and Maziya had been in the same group last year as well. Mohun Bagan won the game in Guwahati of India but both teams drew the match in Maldives’ capital Male.
Maziya is widely acknowledged as the most well-prepared team for this year’s season. The squad boasts several members that play in the Maldives National Football Team, while the four foreign players that newly joined the club this season have also made a great difference on the pitch.
Acknowledging Maziya’s strength, Coach Sekulovski declared that they must be aware and wary of their opponents’ strength as well.
“We have good national team players and foreign players in our team. But we have to know that the other teams are from this region and they also have national team players in those teams.”
Maziya are up for the first AFC match coming Tuesday in which they will go up against Abahani Limited in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Abahani Limited are led by Croatian coach Drago Mamic, who had formerly managed the Maldives’ national team. He was also Abahani's coach in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup last month, where Abahani lost to TC Sports Club of the Maldives.
Abahani Limited have also brought several changes to their line-up since the Sheikh Kamal Gold Cup with five talented new members to the team including a foreign player.
Sekulovski said that he has looked into Maziya’s opponents to prepare for this match.
“I saw their three matches of Sheikh Kamal Cup in Bangladesh. Most of the local players they had is from Bangladesh National Team. They are the champions of Bangladesh. We have to give our best to beat them.”
Maziya had commenced practices early to prepare for the new season, with their coach implementing his game plan into their play from the first session itself. They have progressively shown stronger games in all three official matches they have played so far.
Coach Sekulovski expressed pride and faith in the team’s prospect for the AFC Cup.
“I believe in my players. I have confidence in them; we go match by match,” he said as he declared that Maziya will give their all to bring home results.
Maziya departed for Dhaka on Saturday. The coach added that the team will make the best of the practices on Sunday and Monday before heading into their first match.