Abahani’s Afghan defender Masih Saighani dedicated his winning goal against Minerva Punjab to Bangladesh as his 93rd-minute strike helped the Sky Blues emerge group champions and move into the inter-zone semi-final playoff of the AFC Cup in Guwahati yesterday.
“This is for Bangladesh,” Saighani said during the dressing room celebration, which was streamed live on Social media.
“I’m really happy to score the goal because many people in Bangladesh were watching this match and they were expecting something from us. Since the last week, we started believing that we were going to make history. We first beat Manang Marshyangdi in Nepal and went step by step. Now we are one step away from the final. I think it [the final] is possible,” the Afghan defender later said at the post-match briefing.
The club’s coach Mario Lemos highly praised Sighani and he believes this win will eventually help Bangladesh football.
“It [Saighani’s goal] was very crucial for us to emerge group champions. Even with a draw in this match, we were out of the competition because Chennaiyin FC won their match. So it is Mashi who scored the goal and helped the Bangladeshi club to qualify for the next round,” Lemos said.
“It is a great achievement for Abahani and the people, who don’t go to stadium because they believe only in result. Hopefully it will boost Bangladesh football and people will now believe that we can compete at international level,” said the 33-year-old coach.
The post-match celebration in the dressing room was streamed live by goalkeeper-cum-captain Shahidul Alam Sohel, with the players chanting ‘Abahani, Abahani, Abahani’.
“We are winners,” reacted defender Wali Faisal while striker Jibon said, “It is history for Abahani.”
This is a historic achievement for Abahani, who never managed to cross the group-stage hurdle of AFC-sanctioned tournaments, but this time they managed to do so, matching the feat of archrivals Mohammedan.
“We all are very happy because we qualified for the knockout stages of AFC Cup for the first time and we are really enjoying this moment,” said midfielder Pranotosh Kumar.