Former champions Sheikh Russel KC broke the hearts of a spirited Brothers Union to advance into the Independence Cup final with an emphatic 2-0 win in the first semifinal at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Uzbek marksman Azizov Alisher scored either side of the break to take The Blues Russel into the final of any tournament for the first time since their treble winning 2012-13 season when they had won the Federation Cup, the Premier League and the Independence Cup while finishing runners-up in season-ending Super Cup.
Since that season though Sheikh Russel have spent big every season, but success remained elusive as they never managed to move into the final of any tournament and also failed to finish within top three of league table.
However, under the guidance of Saiful Bari Titu, Sheikh Russel played in the Federation Cup semifinal where they were eliminated by newcomers Bashundhara Kings, thanks to a 118th-minute strike from Towhidul Alam Sabuz. This time the charges of Titu scored goals in regulation time to tame a spirited Brothers Union, who were also looking to seal a tournament final berth for first time in the professional football era which started in 2007.
However, Brothers, playing without Jack Daniels of Panama and Muayyad Khalid of Iraq, were not as impressive as they were against last edition's winners Arambagh and they were always on the back foot from the outset.
Sheikh Russel could have taken the lead in the very third minute but Raphael Odoyin was unable to shrug off his marker Ashraful Karim, who cleared the ball inside the box before the Nigerian could have a shot on target.
Brothers' only remarkable attack in the first half was in the 12th minute when Shafiqul Islam whipped in a cross from the left but Brazilian forward Leonardo Lima headed the ball straight to opposition goalkeeper Ashraful Islam Rana.
With Sheikh Russel often unsettling the Brothers Union defence, Azizov broke the deadlock in the 45th minute with volley on a cross from Odoyin cross. The Brothers players and officials protested and rounded off assistant referee Manir Ahmed Dhali demanding an off-side ruling, but to no avail.
Sheikh Russel made put clear daylight with their opposition six minutes into the second half when Khalekurzaman's square-pass was comfortably turned in by an unmarked Azizov.
Brothers came close to reducing the margin in the 67th minute but Lima, despite racing past two defenders, drove wide of near post, extinguishing any chances of a comeback for his side.
“The match was not easy because we allowed Brothers to play in the first half but we regrouped to press hard in the second half. We left the field with a deserved victory,” said Sheikh Russel coach Saiful Bari Titu.