Another heroic performance by goalkeeper Anisur Rahman Zico propelled Bashundhara Kings to the Independence Cup final with a 7-6 win on penalties over Abahani at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
None of the Kings' players or officials could bear to watch when Zico decided to stop Emon Babu from taking the seventh spot-kick of the shootout and take the penalty himself after having stopped Abahani's seventh shot from Imtiaz Sultan Jitu. The lad from Cox's Bazar then beat Abahani goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel from the spot with a powerful shot to send the fans and his teammates into a wild frenzy.
Earlier Zico, also the Bangladesh U-23 national team goalkeeper, had stopped three penalties from three foreign players of Rahmatganj MFS in shootouts during a quarterfinal encounter to take the Kings to the semifinals.
This triumph means that big-spending Bashundhara Kings have qualified for two successive finals in their debut season. The newcomers will now face off against Sheikh Russel KC on December 26.
On the other hand, for Abahani this defeat means that the Independence Cup title remains elusive for the Sky Blues since the start of the professional football era in 2007.
“I saw our tensed players at the dugout as they might have disbelieved me. But I individually regularly practice shooting from the spot after practice sessions. After stopping one shoot from Abahani, I thought I would take our next shot as a couple of our players already missed,” Zico said. “I was really confident about beating the opponent goalkeeper because I had struck from spot in a local football tournament in Cox's Bazar.”
“After the completion of regulation time, our coach [Oscar Bruzon] told the players; don't worry, we have Zico in the shootout and that made me more confident. I had also practiced penalties yesterday [Wednesday] and stopped two shots from our coach,” he continued.
Federation Cup champions Abahani were tipped as favourites for the match over runners-up Bashundhara Kings as the latter was missing a few key players, who were either suspended or recovering from injuries.
However, the Sky Blues were not as impressive as they were in the Federation Cup final, where they handed a 3-1 defeat to the same opposition.
After surviving the initial pressure from Abahani, the Kings regrouped and returned the favour as they came close to take the lead twice before Zico denied Abahani midfielder Pranotosh Kumar brilliantly two minutes from the break.
After resumption, substitute Matin Mia gave Bashundhara the lead through a nice combination with Daniel Colindres and Mahbubur Rahman Sufil in the 69th minute before Abahani hit back in the 82nd minute to level the margin with a spectacular header from Haitian Fils Belfort.
Afterwards, Abahani created a few good scoring opportunities but either failed to convert or the woodwork denied the Dhanmondi-based outfit. Abahani paid dearly for the loss as they quit the tournament from the semifinals to stretch their Independence Cup drought to one decade.