Bangladesh Premier League champions Sheikh Russel KC became the first Bangladeshi club to qualify for the final round of the AFC President's Cup as they emerged Group A champions after an emphatic 4-0 win over Ugyen Academy of Bhutan in their last and final group match at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka yesterday.
Mithun Chowdhury followed up his previous match's double with another brace while Haitian forward Pascal Millien and Shakil Ahmed also found the back of the net to power Sheikh Russel into the final round as champions of group with seven points. Sri Lanka Air Force SC joined them as they finished second in the group with six points after beating last edition's runners-up KRL FC of Pakistan 3-0 in the other match yesterday. The six-team final round will be held from September 22 to 28, even though the venue is yet to be decided.
This is the first time a Bangladeshi club made it to the final round of the third-tier club competition as Abahani had previously failed in their five attempts. However, Mohammedan SC had qualified for the second round of the now-defunct AFC Cup Winners' Cup in 1996.
Sheikh Russel showed no signs of their domestic worries as they struck nine goals in the last two matches following a goalless draw against KRL FC in their opening group fixture.
Newly-appointed coach Dragan Djukanovic brought one change to his starting eleven which handed a 5-0 defeat to Sri Lanka Air Force SC by drafting in Sabuj Biswas in place of Mohammad Robin and opted to play attacking football against Ugyen Academy even though a draw was all they needed to qualify.
They started the match brightly and created two scoring chances within the first ten minutes, but Mithun and Millien squandered those chances before they made amends.
Millien, availing a through-pass from Mithun, beat opposition goalkeeper Ngawang Jamphel in the 14th minute while Mithun, after being set up by Millien, doubled the lead in the 21st minute.
Sheikh Russel took the game away from Ugyen after Shakil struck the third goal in the 28th minute to go for the break with a comfortable 3-0 lead. Some excellent saves from goalkeeper Biplob Bhattacharjee kept Sheikh Russel's sheet clean in the second half before Mithun completed the rout by striking the team's fourth goal two minutes from time.
“It is a great pleasure for us that we could repay the love and expectation of 160 million people,” captain Biplob was quoted as saying at the post-match press conference, according to messages received here.
Djukanovic hoped his charges would keep the momentum in the Bangladesh Premier League as well.
“I want the boys keep up their performance when we resume the Bangladesh Premier League campaign. I am satisfied with the way they played here in Sri Lanka,” said the Montenegrin coach, under whose guidance Sheikh Russel suffered one and drew one league match since his appointed in the third week of March.