Abahani are considered pioneers of modern football in the country after Bangladesh’s independence but when it comes to AFC-sanctioned tournaments, they have not been able to reach the heights of archrivals Mohammedan.
Abahani have now raised hopes of accomplishing what Mohammedan did twice some 30 years ago, when they progressed to the second round of the now-defunct AFC Club Cup Championship -- first in the 1988-89 edition and then in the 1990-91 edition.
The Dhanmondi-based outfit were the first to represent Bangladesh at the AFC Club Cup Championship -- rebranded the AFC Champions League in 2002 -- in 1985, but they finished behind Indian outfit East Bengal despite winning four of five matches in their six-team group.
Abahani also withdrew from the AFC Club Cup Championship in the 1993-94 edition before starting their campaign again in the newly-introduced AFC President’s Cup in 2008. They participated in that tournament five times from 2008-2013 but could not change their luck. They came closest in the 2009 edition, when the finished tied for top spot with FC Asgabat. However, the Turkmenistan outfit came out ahead on goal difference, disintegrating Abahani’s dream of qualifying for the knockout stage.
After the AFC President’s Cup was abolished following its 10th edition in 2014, Abahani entered the AFC Cup, a second-tier club tournament, and endured two disappointing campaigns where they finished fourth and third in their four-team group in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Abahani managed only one win and one draw from six matches on both occasions previously, but this time around they are on the verge of advancing to the second round. They are currently on top of the four-team table with 10 points from five matches, two points ahead of second-placed Indian outfit Chennaiyin FC.
Bolstered by Wednesday’s commanding 5-0 win over Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club -- Abahani’s second biggest win in the AFC-sanctioned tournament behind a massive 8-1 triumph over Club Valencia of Maldives in 1985 -- the six-time Bangladesh Premier League champions will attempt to secure three points against hosts Minerva Punjab on June 26 in Guwahati, Assam to realise their long-standing dream of advancing to the second round [inter-zonal play-off].
That dream can be shattered if Abahani slip against the I-league champions, the only unbeaten side in the group having drawn all five of their matches. They gave Abahani a run for their money in Dhaka after taking the lead twice and Minerva will certainly pose a challenge once again.
However, Abahani’s result will not be a factor if Chennaiyin FC fail to win against Manang Marshyangdi Club, whose coach Chhring Lopsang Gurung wants to end the AFC Cup campaign with at least one victory.
Abahani are well within reach of not only advancing to the next round, but also equaling the feats of falling giants Mohammedan. Now only time can tell whether they can finally cross that hurdle.