Midfielder Mamunul Islam broke Abahani hearts when he guided Sheikh Russell into the semi-finals of the Independence Cup Football Tournament with a 1-0 win in their final group game at the Bangabandhu National Stadium on Friday.
The midfielder scored the priceless winner in the 66th minute to top Group B with maximum nine points and set up a semi-final clash against Mukijoddha Sangsad on Sunday.
The sky-blue outfit had no other option other than winning, so from the very start they continued to put pressure on the opposition with their fluent passing in a fast-paced encounter.
As Abahani looked more determined and organised than Russell, who just needed a draw to book a ticket to the semis, they went close to taking the lead in the seventh minute only to be denied by Russell goalkeeper Biplob Bhattacharjee.
Striker Shakhawat Hossain Rony darted into the box from the left and cut the ball back to Ghanaian Awudu Ibrahim, who saw his powerful shot from outside the box brilliantly saved by Biplob but Abahani did not give up their pressure on Russell.
Right-back Atiqur Rahman Meshu whipped a cross for Abdul Baten Komol and the left-winger advanced to the box to chip it for unmarked Rony but a timely intervention by Bosnian defender Bojan Petric rescued Russell from the possible danger on 24 minutes.
Russell, the Federation Cup champions, also tried to split open the depleted backline of Abahani but their forwards had hardly any impact in the first half but they came strongly in the second half to create a lot of scoring chances and availed one of those.
The huge pressure on Abahani defence earned Russell three successive corners as midfielder Mamunul Islam found the back of Abahani net with a curling corner-kick in the 66th minute.
After conceding the lead, Abahani coach Ardeshir Pournemat strengthened the attack by bring in three changes and sent makeshift-defender Yoko Samnick to the midfield, keeping three players in the backline but his decision could have been worse had Sheikh Russell’s Haitian Sony Norde and Zahid Hossain not squandered the chances.
Abahani goalkeeper Sohel managed to tip a powerful shot from Sony over the crosspiece in the 75th minute, Sony shot straight at Sohel in a one-on-one situation when a chip over the keeper could beat him two minutes later.
Earlier, a draw was enough for Muktijoddha Sangsad to move into the semi-finals of the Independence Cup Football Tournament as Group C champions when their match against Team BJMC ended in a 1-1 draw at the same venue.
Mohammad Yusuf put the freedom fighters’ outfit ahead in the 12th minute only to see his goal cancelled out by Ismael Bangura, just ten minutes from the final whistle. But the draw was worthy for the All Reds to take them into the last-four on a better goal difference. As both the sides finished level on five points from three games.
Though, Muktijoddha knew that a draw would be enough for them to book a semi berth still they attacked from the very beginning of the match and took a deserved lead in the 12th minute with a well organised move.
Their Nigerian player Dawlington ran down the left flank and whipped a cross for Rokonuzzaman Kanchan,
who saw his miscued shot fall to unmarked Yousuf in the six-yard box and the winger did not make any mistake to rifle home with a volley to give Muktijoddha Sangsad the lead.
After conceding the goal BJMC came right back into the match and came close to scoring three times, but their forwards were to blame for poor finishing.
Muktijoddha could have doubled their lead in the final seconds of the first half when Kanchan missed a sitter with net wide open in front him.
BJMC continued to press for the equaliser and levelled the margin in the 80th
minute from a penalty after Muktijoddha defender Eleta Benjamin had bought Abdullah Parvez down inside the box. Guinean forward Bangoura converted the spot-kick.
Muktijoddha came close to taking lead twice but Brazilian Tyson Silva failed to put the ball into an open net while Yousuf saw his shot on a Darlington cross come back off the crossbar.
-With New Age input