Just over a month ago, Bangladesh football's new powerhouse Bashundhara Kings had stormed into the final of their maiden top-flight tournament, the Walton Federation Cup, with some scintillating and free-scoring football. They had scored a whopping 13 goals in five matches leading up to the final, but when it mattered most, their fire was doused. Despite having the best team on paper with enough quality in the eleven and plenty of options to call upon at the reserve bench, Oscar Bruzon's charges were stripped of their style and finesse by a seasoned Abahani side.
Today, Bashundhara Kings have an opportunity to redeem themselves when they take on Sheikh Russel in the final of the Independence Cup at the Bangabandhu National Stadium. The situation, though, is a bit different this time.
Two of the key players of the side -- defender Shushanto Tripura and striker Tawhidul Alam Sabuj -- are still unavailable due to the suspensions they received for their part in the fracas of the Federation Cup final. Furthermore, their in-form forward Bakhtiyar Duyshobekov's participation is under the cloud owing to his scheduled appearance for Kyrgyzstan in an international friendly against Qatar last night.
The troubles off the pitch was reflected in their on-field performance as the Championship League winners of last season struggled throughout the tournament since beating Sheikh Jamal 2-0 in the opening game. They were held by Sheikh Russel to a draw in the last group game before riding on the heroics of young goalkeeper Anisur Rahman Zico for two penalty shootout victories over Chittagong Abahani in quarterfinals and Brothers Union in semifinals.
However, coach Bruzon knows that the unavailability of a few of players will not be a good enough excuse in case his side comes second best for the second time in a month.
“The moment Bashundhara Kings contracted me, they wanted trophies. We want to be in the final of every tournament we play, but finishing second does not mean anything,” said the Spaniard during his pre-final assessment yesterday.
Attacking play is the biggest weapon of this side, with the likes of Daniel Colindres, Marcos Vinicius and Bakhtiyar Duyshobekov and a few young local talents making Bashundhara Kings a formidable force, but defence remains their weakest link, exacerbated by the absence of versatile full-back Tripura.
“We have trouble with injuries and suspension, but we cannot control that and I am not thinking about them. I have players who can stand in for them in the final,” Bruzon added.
Sheikh Russel, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. They are a very strong unit defensively, so much so that they are yet to concede a single goal during the Independence Cup. The compact defence and counter-attacking style reflects the philosophy of their coach Saiful Bari Titu, who has taken Sheikh Russel to the final of a tournament for the first time since the club's historic treble-winning 2012-13 season.
Titu will undoubtedly bank on his tried and tested philosophy of maintaining a compact defence, trying to deny space to the opposition forwards while looking for breaks on the counter.
“We need to maintain a high level of concentration. We will have to maintain a compact defence,” the former Bangladesh coach said in his pre-final analysis. “I think the team that will make less number of mistakes will come out on top in the final.”
However, Titu's side is not just about defence; their forward line is coming into form just at the right time. After having gone goalless in the group stages, Sheikh Russel forwards have hit form just at the right time, with Uzbek forward Alisher Azizov bagging three goals in the last two matches and his strike partner Raphael Odoyin also getting amongst the goals.
In the final reckoning it might come down to the small margins and the ability to absorb pressure that decides which side comes out on top in the clash between contrasting styles.