A late strike from Haitian forward Kervens Fils Belfort lifted Abahani to the semifinals of the Walton Independence Cup as the Dhanmondi outfit overcame Saif Sporting Club 1-0 in their quarterfinal encounter at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Belfort separated the sides in the 81st minute with a tap-in to guide the Federation Cup champions to the last four, a stage they failed to qualify for during the last edition.
The Sky Blues will face the winners of today's quarterfinal between Bashundhara Kings and Rahmatganj in the second semifinal on December 20.
Although they put up a spirited performance to clinch the season's curtain-raising Federation Cup, Abahani struggled to maintain consistency on the ground yesterday as Saif gave their superior opponents a run for their money.
After the match, Saif SC coach Jonathan McKinstry seemed displeased by Belfort's goal.
“It [the goal] might have been offside seeing the way my players reacted after the goal but I don't know whether it was off-side. However, the winger [Shohel Rana] controlled the ball with his hands before the goal was scored and I appealed it from the sideline, you saw that. And it is very frustrating,” said McKinstry.
McKinsty's counterpart, Abahani's Portuguese coach Guerreiro Lemos, said it was tough to judge whether it was offside from the technical area.
Abahani came close to taking the lead in the ninth minute when Pranotosh Kumar headed a Minhyeok Ko free-kick which went inches wide of the far post. Saif could then have gone ahead in the 27th minute by availing a mistake from Abahani goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel, but an over-head shot by Colombian Andres Cordoba went over.
Six minutes later, Jafar Iqbal failed to connect with a Seungil Park cut-back with only the goalkeeper to beat, costing Saif dearly as Abahani came back strongly in the second half, sending shivers down Saif's spine through a wave of attacks. Belfort was denied by Zia from a point-blank header while substitute Jewel Rana drove off target in front of an open net.
Soon after, Belfort struck the all-important goal. Sohel Rana whipped in a cross for Sunday Chizoba, whose header was stopped by goalkeeper Zia. However, Belfort was also in front of Zia and made no mistake.