Sheikh Jamal got off to a brilliant start in the AFC Cup Play-Off Qualifiers as the Bangladesh Premier League champions came from behind to hand an emphatic 4-1 defeat to Casa Benfica of Macau in their opening match at the Dolen Omurzakov Stadium in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan yesterday. The three-time professional football league champions of Bangladesh made no mistake in transferring their superb domestic form to the international stage, enjoying the lion’s share of possession throughout the game and creating numerous chances with their fluid build-up game, cashing in on four occasions to sent the Macau champions packing.
Sheikh Jamal had fears of being thumped by the wounded Casa Benfica outfit, who were searching for a way to stay alive in the qualifiers after previously suffering a 2-0 defeat to FC Alga. However, the Dhanmondi-based outfit shrugged off the initial pressure from their opponents and ultimately left the field with their hands held high.
Benfica stunned Sheikh Jamal against the run of play in the 26th minute when Nicholas Mario Tarrao headed past goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel, but the deficit gave Sheikh Jamal the impetus to bounce back into the game.
Gambian Landing Darboe squandered an easy chance in the 41st minute but Nigerian Emeka Darlington did not make any mistake a few minutes later, levelling the margin in the 44th minute. The prolific striker availed a pass from Toklish Ahmed and chipped Benfica goalkeeper Rui Nibra, who could only watch the ball sail over his head.
After resumption, Sheikh Jamal’s Nigerian coach Joseph Afusi withdrew Toklish in favour of Shakhawat Hossain Rony and the former Bangladesh striker repaid his coach’s faith by scoring two of Sheikh Jamal’s three second-half goals.
Sheikh Jamal continued to keep possession and launched attacks one after another. Captain Mamunul Islam provided the breakthrough in the 72nd minute, his free-kick giving Sheikh Jamal the lead. Only five minutes later, Mamunul fed a pass to substitute Rony, who made it 3-1 with a clinical finish.
Rony, who warmed Sheikh Jamal’s bench throughout the domestic season, wrapped up the victory four minutes from time after playing a nice one-two with Emeka, before finishing off the chance himself.
Now, Sheikh Jamal need only a draw against FC Alga on Saturday to emerge as the champions of Group champions and advance to the next round of the AFC Cup.
-With The Daily Star input