A late equaliser from the visiting side held the misfiring Dhaka Abahani Limited to a 1-1 draw in their final group stage match of the 2017 AFC Cup at the waterlogged Bangabandhu National Stadium on Wednesday.
Nigerian striker Emeka Darlington put the host ahead with a spectacular side-volley early in the first half before Japanese midfielder Katsumi Yusa cancelled out the lead in the dying stages of the game. This was Abahani’s only draw out of six group stage matches with their solitary win coming against FC Bengaluru early last month.
The game was stopped after the fourth minute due to heavy rainfall. The match resumed after almost an hour at 8:49pm. The home side dominated the first half and created a series of chances, including a missed penalty. The second half was an even affair at the beginning but the Mariners went all-out for the equaliser in the last half-an-hour.
Meanwhile in the day’s other match, Bengaluru moved to the knockout stage after beating Maziya Sports and Recreation Club 1-0 at home. Abahani finished Group E at the bottom with four points while Bagan ended third with seven. Both Bengaluru and Maziya have 12 points but the former are ahead thanks to a superior head-to-head record.
Abahani head coach Drago Mamic was forced to make two big changes to the previous squad that lost away against Maldives champion Maziya on May 17. In-form forwards Rubel Miah and Saad Uddin were replaced by Sohel Rana and Nabib Newaj Jibon.
Rubel was left out of the squad due to injury while Saad managed to make it to the bench before featuring in the last 20 minutes. The young attacking duo were Abahani's best performers during their 2-0 win against Bengaluru on May 3.
Rain started to pour down within a minute of kick off. Emeka tried his luck from 20 yards in the second minute but it was too easy for Bagan goalkeeper Paul Shilton. The game was then halted due to heavy rainfall.
After an hour of disruption due to rain, the game resumed with Abahani dominating the opposition. Emeka broke the deadlock in the ninth minute with a brilliant finish. Mamun Miah provided a cross from the right side and Emeka didn’t wait for the ball to drop as he fired home into the near post with a right-footed side volley.
Welshman Jonathan David Brown, playing his last match in Bangladesh this season, missed the opportunity to double the lead three minutes later when he fired a penalty wide after Bagan defender Bikramjit Singh brought down Emeka inside the box.
Emeka went very close to scoring again in the 64th minute but Bikramjit produced a brilliant goal-line clearance to deny the Nigerian’s goal-bound header. Jonathan missed another chance in the 72nd minute when he shot over.
Katsumi equalised after converting a penalty in the 83rd minute following Mamun’s foul on Jeje.
Shahidul Alam Sohel; Waly Faisal, Samad Yussif, Rayhan Hasan, Yeasin Khan; Mamun Miah, Emon Mahmud, Sohel Rana, Jonathan David Brown; Emeka Darlington, Nabib Newaj Jibon.
Paul Shilton; Raju Eknath, Kinshuk, Bikramjit Singh, Shouvik Ghosh; Bikram, Raynier Fernandes, Kean Lewis, Katsumi Yusa; Darryl Duffy, Lalpekhlua Jeje.