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    Churchill boys up for challenge in ACL

    New Delhi: Churchill Brothers coach Carlos Roberto Pereira on Friday conceded his side has a tough task at hand in their AFC Champions League play-off against Al Wahda of the UAE but said his boys are up for the challenge in their bid to become the first Indian club to qualify for the top flight continental competition.

    The winner of the final West Zone play-off match between Churchill and Al Wahda in Abu Dhabi on Saturday will qualify for the ACL this year. Al Wahda scored a shock away win over 2009 AFC Cup runners-up Al Karamah of Syria in Homs on January 30 to set up against reigning I-League champions Churchill.

    Pereira expects his boys, led by I-League top-scorer for last two years Odafe Onyeka Okolie, will be motivated by the prospect of playing along with the best in Asia if they qualify for the ACL.

    "My boys knows the huge benefits for themselves individually and for the club. I am not going to say that we would win. Al Wahda are a strong side, a big team with a big reputation. They have three very good Brazilians in their ranks. I know it will be a tough task to beat them," Pereira told PTI from Goa before departing with 18 players for Abu Dhabi on Friday.

    "But you never know anything can happen in football. My boys are in good shape and they have the motivation to become the first side in India to qualify for the big league (ACL)," he added.

    Al Wahda have played in the ACL on four occasions in the past -- 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008. They made it to the semifinals of ACL in 2007. The side is coached by former Austrian World Cupper Josef Hickersberger and has three Brazilians in striker Fernando Baiano and mid-fielders Marcio Rodrigues and Luciano da Silva.

    Pereira said he will have to find ways to stop Al Wahda striker Baiano, who had played for top Brazilian sides Fluminese and Flamengo and in Spanish Li Liga. Baiano also played for Al Wahda's city rivals Al Jazira, the current UAE Pro League leaders.

    "I know and have seen Biango playing for Flamengo and Fluminense and he is a very dangerous striker. We have to see how we can stop him. Our defence will have to be extra vigilant against him," said Pereira, a Brazilian himself.

    "I have seen some of the videos of Al Wahda and hope to have more from some friends once I land in Abu Dhabi," said Pereira who has been head coach of top sides in Qatar and assistant coach of Al Ain of UAE.

    He also expects captain Odafe to be his trump card as usual and inspire the side which has been embroiled in an alleged air hostess molestation case on way to Kolkata for an I-League match last month.

    "All the boys have not played much outside India and they are all pumped up. Odafe is an unknown quantity in that part of the world and that is the plus point. I hope he comes up his best on Saturday," Pereira, who have been plying trade in India for more than three years with stints at East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, said.

    Central defender Gouramangi Singh said his team-mates have forgotten the bitter episode which saw Odafe and two other players being detained for allegedly molesting a Spice Jet air hostess before being released on bail.

    "All of us have forgotten the incident. We are now focusing on football. It is a huge game for us. The chance to qualify for the ACL is the motivating factor," he said.

    "We know our opponents are a strong side and they have a reputation to protect as they have played earlier in the ACL.

    We are of a similar level in Asia. They will be under pressure to perform at home and we have nothing to lose," said the India stopper back and I-League best defender of 2009.

    Churchill will also hoping that the large Indian expatriate population, including lots of Goan origin, will cheer the side at Al Nahyan Stadium. They are also likely to be cheered by Indian national players, who will reach Dubai tomorrow for a 20-day training camp as preparation for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.

    Churchill will play in the AFC Cup if they lose the play-off.