NEW DELHI: It took Al Nejmeh 24 hours to reach Delhi from Lebanon but it did not take much time for the team to settle down and come to grips with the task of preparing for the AFC Cup quarterfinal against Mahindra United (Mumbai) here on Tuesday.
The Lebanese outfit lost time when travel plans had to be altered as the venue for this match was shifted from Goa to Delhi. The match will be played at the Ambedkar Stadium from 9 p.m. following a directive from the Asian Football Confederation, keeping in mind the month of Ramzan.
Al Nejmeh, the most popular football club in war-torn Lebanon, lost two talented youngsters in a bomb-blast sometime back. “We miss them,” said assistant coach Fadi Yamani.
Praise for the venue
The chief coach, Nenad Stavric, assumed responsibility only two months back but appeared remarkably composed and confident when discussing the prospects at a venue he described as “very good.”
Al Nejmeh comprises five players from the national team that is scheduled to play India at home in a World Cup qualifier next month. “We have a compact side and will play our natural game. We like to play aggressive football, whoever be the opponent, and it would be no different tomorrow,” said Mr. Stavric.
The Al Nejmeh coach had high regards for Mahindra United after watching the Mumbai team’s performance in the just-concluded Federation Cup final against East Bengal. “I think Mahindra has some very good players. I liked No. 4 (K. Ajayan). He is strong and shoots well. No. 12 (Manjit Singh) was good and No. 23 (Steven Dias) works hard. But I don’t understand why Mahindra played its key players in the final when it had such an important match here,” Mr. Stavric said.
The Lebanese welcomed the timing of the match. “It suits us because the temperature would be down. We are used to humidity back home and would not mind playing in any conditions,” Mr. Stavric said.
Mahindra coach Derek Pereira, down with an eye infection, however, was unhappy with the timing of the match. “I would have preferred an earlier start but I don’t want to make an issue of it. Honestly, I have not seen the opposition but they must be well prepared. We are also keen.”