In this year’s edition, Abahani are just a step away from reaching the second round by becoming group champion and making history
A Bangladeshi club sitting atop the points table in an international tournament with just one group match left is an unprecedented thing.
But, not only being at the top of Group E in the AFC Cup 2019 but also the way Abahani thrashed their opponent 5-0 in their last game brought great joy, ecstasy and hope in the country’s morbid football scene.
Since the inception of the prestigious AFC Cup back in 2004, Abahani represented Bangladesh most of the times in the tournament, but the Sky Blues usually get eliminated from the group stage without any success.
But in this year’s edition, they are just a step away from reaching the second round by becoming group champion and making history.
Abahani have 10 points from five matches with a goal difference of +6, while Indian side Chennaiyan FC, who are in second spot, have eight points with a goal difference of +2.
That means Abahani’s win will be enough to secure their second-round berth.
Abahani Limited are enjoying their best run in the @theafcdotcom, topping their group with only a game remaining, and their Wednesday’s thrashing 5-0 win over Manang Marshyangdi Club was their highest margin of victory in more than a decade.https://t.co/2a5z62gUYM#ABAHANI #AFC— Dhaka Tribune Sports (@Sport_DT) June 19, 2019
The Dhanmondi giant kept last year’s squad, which won just one match and lost four in the last edition, almost unchanged.
Abahani manager Satyajit Das Rupu explained the reasons of such a transformation for this side.
“In the previous editions we played the tournament after the end of the domestic league. That is why players couldn’t give their best as they focused on moving to a new club. This time, the premier league and the AFC Cup are taking place simultaneously, which is helping the players so far to give more effort and performing well in the latter competition as wel,” said Rupu to Dhaka Tribune Thursday.
The foreign players’ quota was also increased to four from this season with the introduction of an Asian player quota.
Abahani’s Afghan recruit Masih Saighani has been playing a crucial role in the AFC Cup with two goals so far, albeit being a defender.
Not only the attacking prowess, he is fulfilling defensive responsibilities in the absence of experienced defender Tapu Barman.
Abahani are only a step away from making it to the @theafcdotcom knockout stage for the first time ever as the turbo-charged BPL champion handed Nepal champion Manang a 5-0 thrashing at their home ground, Bangabandhu National Stadium, Dhaka Wednesday.https://t.co/NRXfDXCgjR#AFC— Dhaka Tribune Sports (@Sport_DT) June 19, 2019
National midfielder Mamunul Islam scored two spectacular goals in the last two matches, against Chennaiyin and Manang Marshyangdi, both with long-range efforts.
His Wednesday’s goal against Manang is currently in contention for the AFC Cup Goal of the Week.
The 30-year-old midfielder told Dhaka Tribune Thursday, “Abahani’s performance also showed the sign that Bangladesh’s football has improved. It’s now not only about Abahani. It’s now Bangladesh and we are eager to create history and make the nation proud. The team spirit is very important, which is very high at the moment. The next match against Minerva is the most important tie for us.”
The Bangladesh champion will travel to Guwahati Sunday to play their final group fixture against I-League champion Minerva, scheduled to be held Wednesday, while Indian Super League champion Chennaiyin play away at Nepal champion Manang.
Portuguese head coach Mario Lemos said after the club’s highest margin of win (5-0) in the competition against Manang Wednesday, “From the first game, I told my players we got to believe. It was far at the beginning but now we are here because we believed in ourselves. Now it’s right there and we need to grab it. We got to finish the job in India.”