This article was published in the December issue of the Sports Tribune Magazine
Last month’s Federation Cup actions shed more light on the gradual changes of the country’s domestic scenario turning more competitive.
Traditional powerhouse Abahani Limited proved once again why they are the most successful club.
Big-spending Bashundhara Kings hinted of offering more challenges during the rest of the season.
Most number of foreign players (51) featured in this tournament.
Costa Rican World Cupper Daniel Colindres garnered the most attention, but it was once again the Nigerian striker Sunday Chizoba who shone brightly than anyone else.
Although the tournament is considered a warm-up competition, there was an increased crowd in the gallery, fights occurred on the pitch and some spectacular goals were scored.
Here are some of the excerpts from the season opening tournament.
Abahani’s triple delight
Abahani’s tradition along with their experience and consistency not only transformed the side in the knockout stage but also outraced the star-studded Bashundhara en route to their third consecutive title in the competition.
They also qualified for the 2019 AFC Cup in the process and also leapfrogged arch-rival Mohammedan Sporting Club Limited to a record 11 Federation Cup titles at the same time.
It was difficult to predict such ending taking notes from their performance in the group stages but the Sky Blues eliminated all the doubts from their first game in the knockout stages.
The quarter-final win over Arambagh Krira Sangha after coming from behind twice was one of the most competitive matches in the competition.
After that, they managed to ease past Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club Limited in the last-four before outplaying Bashundhara in the final.
Sunday v Colindres
Colindres shone in the first game, also his debut in Bangladesh, during the thrashing 5-2 win over Mohammedan.
The Costa Rican scored one and assisted three others.
Last season’s league top scorer Sunday had to wait till the quarter-final to open the scoring while Colindres scored a hat-trick against Team BJMC in the same stage.
Sunday netted a treble in the semi-final to catch Colindres and with four goals each before the final, it appeared like a race between the two to become the top-scorer.
Abahani’s experienced defence managed to keep Colindres in check but it was Sunday’s day as he continued to penetrate into the Bashundhara defence that led him eventually to score two goals in the second half.
Other notable performers
Abahani’s very late arrival, Haitian international Kervens Belfort had a decent debut campaign and his attacking partnership with Sunday showed improvements.
Waly Faisal’s vibrant presence at left-back position with those crucial set-pieces, along with Topu Barman and Afghan signing Masih Saighani’s solid display at the heart of defence, also accelerated Abahani’s team performance.
Man of the final, Sohel Rana’s performance in the semi-final and final was also very important for the club.
Towhidul Alam Sabuj, Masuk Mia Jony, Mohammad Ibrahim and Matin Mia also shone brightly for the runners-up Bashundhara.
Kyrgyz signing Baktiyar Duishobekov was one of the top performers in defensive midfield but he missed the semi-final due to international duty.
Sheikh Russel Krira Chakra exhibited top-defensive performance, led by Nigerian defender Alison Udoka, until they conceded their first goal in the semi-final against Bashundhara and saw the exit door.
Sheikh Jamal also fought well despite an average squad thanks to their Gambian attacking pair Solomon King and Sainey Bojang.
Arambagh were the top-performer among the lower-budget clubs and received words of praise, despite their sorry exit after a quarter-final thriller.
Local midfielder Shahrier Bappy was one of their stars with two brilliant goals.
Battle of the coaches
When the other title contenders were bringing in proven foreign and local coaches, Abahani relied on SM Zakaria Babu to guide them from the dug-out.
There was Spanish coach Oscar Bruzon in Bashundhara.
The Spaniard won the treble with New Radiant Football Club in Maldives last year.
There were Nigerian coach Joseph Afusi in Sheikh Jamal, former Sierra Leone and Rwanda head coach Jonathan McKinstry in Saif Sporting Club, English coach Christopher Evans in Mohammedan and former national coach Saiful Bari Titu in Sheikh Russel, but Babu became the ultimate winner.
It was Babu’s first professional league title as head coach.
Goals, clashes and red cards
After Belfort’s 94th-minute goal sent Arambagh out of the tournament, some of the club’s ball boys attacked the referees while a few were seen throwing iceboxes.
The final also saw more scuffles which forced the referee to show red cards to four players of Abahani and Bashundhara, while in the same match another clash forced Sunday out of the match.
An ambulance was required to carry the Nigerian to hospital straight from the field.
Those ball boys were later banned for life while the four players received bans, ranging from two to eight matches.
However, those ugly moments could be easily overshadowed with some aesthetic scenes.
The tournament witnessed some spectacular goals while a few came to the spotlight through eye-catching long-range efforts, including Rahmat Miah’s one for Saif Sporting, Bappy’s goal for Arambagh, Landing Darboe’s strike for Mohammedan, and some of the brilliant goals from the two shining stars of the tournament - Colindres and Sunday.
Abahani 3 (Sunday 51, 79, Belfort 82) 1 Bashundhara (Colindres 21)
Top-scorer – Sunday Chizoba, Abahani (6 goals)
Player of final – Sohel Rana, Abahani
Player of tournament – Sunday Chizoba
Fair play award – Sheikh Russel
ROLL OF HONOUR
Year Winner Runners up
2018 Abahani Limited Bashundhara Kings
2017 Abahani Limited Chittagong Abahani Limited
2016 Abahani Limited Arambagh Krira Sangha
2015 Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club Limited Muktijoddha Sangsad Krira Chakra
2013 Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Limited Muktijoddha Sangsad Krira Chakra
Abahani Limited 11
Mohammedan Sporting Club Limited 10
Muktijoddha Sangsad Krira Chakra 3
Brothers Union 3
Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club Limited 3