An injury-time equaliser by substitute forward Towhidul Alam Sabuj helped Chittagong Abahani reach the quarter-final of the Independence Cup as Group D champion after playing out a 1-1 draw in the tournament’s final group stage match at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka Friday. Arambagh Krira Sangha also swept into the last eight as the runners-up side.
All the three teams in the group earned two points each from as many games but riding on the advantage of scoring more goals, Chittagong Abahani topped the chart. The number of bookings came into consideration as well after both Arambagh and Saif Sporting Club scored one goal each from two draws. Arambagh have only one yellow card from two games while Saif Sporting have two cards.
The quarterfinal line-up was finalised after the game as Chittagong Abahani will face Group C runners-up Sheikh Russel Krira Chakra in the fourth last-eight encounter while Group C champion Abahani Limited got Arambagh in the third quarter-final.
Five of the Saif Sporting loanees for the AFC Cup started for Chiitagong Abahani while among the other loanees, winger Zahid Hossain was ruled out due to injury and Sabuj and midfielder Masuk Mia Joni were left on the bench.
The opening half ended with both the sides having one notable chance each, Arif for Arambagh in the 16th minute while Chittagong Abahani winger Jafar Iqbal's header hit the sidepost three minutes later. Forward Mohammad Jewel gave Arambagh the lead six minutes into the second half, placing home past the onrushing Chittagong Abahani goalkeeper Ashraf Islam Rana.
Despite trailing 1-0, the body language of the Chittagong Abahani players suggested no hunger for the equaliser for the remainder of the game. The league's top local scorer Sabuj came off the bench to rescue the side with the equaliser in the second minute of four-minute injury time, hitting the sidenet through the far post with a side-volley following a cross from Sushanta Tripura.
Chittagong Abahani coach Zulfikar Mahmud Mintu and team leader Shakil Mahmud Chowdhury both admitted to Dhaka Tribune that the AFC Cup involvement of their key players is hampering their performance in the tournament. Saif Sporting have eight loanees for the AFC Cup who will be travelling to Maldives Saturday to play the away match Tuesday.
Mintu said, "They played an international match Tuesday and will play another in two-three days, it is not a matter of joke. It's a problem but I have to manage it because of their fitness level and psychological issue. I got all the players the day before the game and I got time to work mainly on tactical side."
Zahid started for Saif Sporting against TC Sports in their debut AFC Cup preliminary round game Tuesday but was replaced before the second half, citing back injury. Shakil informed that Zahid's latest MRI scan Thursday came out negative, saying, "Zahid has been complaining of pain after the AFC Cup match."
Shakil added, "The players couldn't give their concentration for not having continuous training under one coach. It is hampering the team, which eventually reflected in our games as well."
Meanwhile, the fixture of the first two quarter-finals has so far been finalised with Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club and Brothers Union taking on each other Saturday before Farashganj Sporting Club play Rahmatganj Muslim Friends Society Sunday.
(Jewel 51) 1 Ctg Abahani
Sk Jamal v Brothers, BNS, Dhaka