Bangladesh Premier League champions Abahani claimed top spot in Group E of the AFC Cup with a 5-0 thrashing of Nepal’s Manang Marshyangdi Club in their penultimate group match at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Nabib Newaj Jibon, Kervens Belfort, Sunday Chizoba, Jewel Rana and Mamunul Islam netted one goal each during a completely one-sided affair amid scorching heat to lift the Sky Blues to the top of the four-team group with 10 points from five matches, with overnight leaders Chennaiyin FC slipping to second position with eight points following a 1-1 draw against Minerva Punjab in the earlier match of the day.
Abahani will qualify for the inter-zonal play-off round if they match Chennaiyin FC’s result in the final matchday when they travel to Minerva Punjab on June 26. Chennaiyin FC will play away to Manang Marshyangdi in their last match on the same day.
If Chennaiyin FC produce any result other than a victory, Abahani will advance to the play-off round even if they lose their last match in Guwahati.
Abahani coach Mario Lemos had termed this match as ‘the biggest match for the club’ in the ongoing AFC Cup, but his charges simply toyed with the Nepalese outfit and it would not have been a surprise had they left the field with a double-digit score.
The hosts started the game with a positive mood by coming close to taking the lead in the very first minute, but Sunday saw his header on a cross from Belfort go wide while a dipping effort from Mamunul narrowly missed the target two minutes later.
The Sky Blues took a deserved lead in the 11th minute when Sunday forced a mistake from Manang Marsyangdi defender Shaheed Azzeez on the edge of the box, allowing Jibon to get the ball and place it into the net past advancing goalkeeper Bishal Shrestha.
Manang Marshyangdi tried to come out of their defensive shell and came close to an equaliser in the 20th minute when Sujal Shrestha shot from distance, but Abahani goalkeeper Shahidul Alam, despite making meal of a regulation take, recovered in time to stop it from going into the net.
With Sunday wasting two opportunities, Belfort doubled the lead in the stoppage time of the first half in fine fashion as the Haitian ran from his own half dancing past three opposition players before placing the ball into the net past the advancing Shreshtha.
Abahani upped the ante in the second half with some crisp passing, unsettling the visitors’ defence time and again. Availing a back-heel from Belfort, midfielder Shohel Rana darted into the box to cut it back for Jewel, who drove home from the edge of the six-yard box to make it 3-0 in the 63rd minute.
Seven minutes later, Sunday rattled the crossbar with a header but the Nigerian made amends with a drive at the near post on 75 minutes before Mamunul completed the rout with a powerful left-footed shot from outside the box deep into stoppage time of the second half.