Defending champions Abahani got off to a winning start in the Bangladesh Premier League with a hard-fought 3-2 win over newcomers Saif Sporting Club at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Striker-turned-defender Nasir Chowdhury struck the winning goal six minutes from time after the five-time champions had surrendered a two-goal lead in the opening contest of the league's tenth edition. The encounter's pace was sluggish as a number of players from both sides suffered muscle strains.
Following a reduction in the number of eligible foreign players, the focus had shifted to local players, especially the forwards. But it was Abahani's Nigerian forward Emeka Darlington, scorer of nine goals in the last edition, who stole the show initially with a brace in the first half. Later though, local players stepped up and scored three of the match's remaining goals.
Federation Cup champions Abahani were far from the standard they had set during the season's curtain raising tournament and looked pretty ordinary throughout the game as they failed to produce attacks from either flank, owing partly to the absence of right back-cum-captain Mamun Mia, who is suffering from Chikungunya.
The Sky Blues though, launched the first attack in the fourth minute, with Wali Faisal releasing a cross from the right for Emeka, who saw his flick drift away from the open net.
With both sides vying for control, Abahani took the lead in the 21st minute when unmarked Emeka headed a Wali cross home from inside the six-yard box. Eight minutes later, the Nigerian doubled Abahani's lead by converting a penalty kick after young forward Saad Uddin was brought down by Saif SC defender Rahmat Mia.
Abahani should have widened the margin in the 42nd minute when Wali passed the ball from a free-kick towards Sohel Rana, who drove an angular shot which was parried away for a corner by goalkeeper Anisur Rahman.
After that, Saif SC started to gain control of the match and posed a heavy challenge in stoppage time of the first half. They created two scoring opportunities, with Colombian striker Valencia Olaya heading narrowly wide of the near post before defender Tapu Barman scored with a header.
Saif SC coach Ryan Northmore sent on Jewel Rana in place of Hemanta Vincent Biswas after restart and the winger levelled the scores in the 49th minute with a diving header on a low cross from Rahim Uddin.
Saif SC should have got ahead in the 66th minute, but Jewel frustrated his teammates by floating the ball over the crossbar from inside the danger zone.
As the match headed towards a draw, Abahani stole victory, thanks to Rahmat Mia's miscued clearance which kindly came towards unmarked Nasir, who headed the ball home from close range.
Two matches are scheduled for today. In the first match, to kick off at 5:00pm, Brothers Union will take on Team BJMC while three-time champions Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club will face off against Mohammedan Sporting Club at 7:15pm. Both matches will be held at the Big Bowl.