Last edition’s zonal semifinalists Abahani failed to capitalise on home advantage in a 2-2 draw against Maziya of Maldives in the first-leg of the preliminary stage-2 of the AFC Cup at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
The six-time Bangladesh Premier League champions, who fought back from a goal down twice, will face an uphill task when they play away in Male on February 12 in their bid to qualify for playoff round, which will be held later this month.
Ahead of the match, Abahani coach Mario Lemos was full of confidence about a win against Maziya despite the fact that Bangladeshi clubs suffered six defeats against Maldivian clubs in the last three seasons. On the pitch, there was not much urgency from the Abahani players as it seemed like they were playing an away match.
However, a draw against the Maldivian club could be considered a good achievement for Abahani, who suffered four defeats against Maziya and New Radiant Club in 2017 and 2018 seasons of the AFC Cup.
Right from the beginning, Abahani seemed very cautious about not conceding a goal and they hardly pressed the opponents, who however got enough space to build the game from behind and cashed in on a half-hearted Abahani performance to leave the field with a big advantage of two away goals.
Even though Abahani looked good in their own half with their exchange of passes, they lacked cohesion in the attacking third in the first half, with long-serving Sunday Chizoba and Kyrgyz midfielder Bernhard Edgar chasing their own shadows.
Maziya’s Grenadian forward Cornelius Ezekiel, however, showed his class with speedy runs and dribbles as Abahani were lucky enough not to suffer a home defeat.
The visitors came close to taking the lead in the 16th minute, with Cornelius dribbling past Saad Uddin and Mailson Veriato before taking a long-range attempt, but Abahani goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel kept it out.
On the half-hour mark, Abahani saw Sunday head a free-kick off Mamunul Islam to the post while Mailson was denied by visitors’ Afghan goalkeeper Ovays Azizi in the 40th minute. But two minutes later, Maziya took an unexpected lead when Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain darted into the box from the right and chipped the ball into the net from a very difficult angle.
It was a wake-up call for Abahani, who started to press hard for the equaliser and Brazilian defender Mailson beat Azizi in the stoppage time of the first half with a powerful left-footer after chesting down a long ball from Raihan Hassan inside the box.
After resumption, Abahani looked a bit better but Maziya restored their lead in the 65th minute as Cornelius smashed home a rebound after Sohel had parried a shot from Hasan Niaz.
Abahani were denied an equaliser as Mohamed Irufaan made a goalline save on a shot from Kervens Belfort in the 73rd minute. However, the Sky Blues levelled the margin seven minutes later when Sunday placed home a forward-pass from Belfort, who had placed a long throw-in by Raihan inside the six-yard box. The goal salvaged Abahani a point and rescued them from a fifth
straight defeat against a Maldivian outfit in the AFC Cup.