Palestine new champions
Favourites Palestine became the newly crowned champions of the 5th Bangabandhu Gold Cup following a 4-3 win on penalties over 10-man Tajikistan in the final at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Goalkeeper Rami Hamada was the hero of the final as he stopped two shots from Tajikistan's Tursunov Komron and Tabrezi Davlatmir during the shootout to help Palestine become the new champions following triumphs by Malaysia U-23s (twice), Japan League XI and Nepal.
Palestine, who stormed into the final with three consecutive victories, failed to break the deadlock in regulation as well as extra time as 10-man Tajikistan, who lost to the same opposition 2-0 in group stage, gave their superior opponents a run for their money.
Despite the absence of the home team, a good number of spectators turned up at the big bowl to enjoy the entertaining final where a few Palestinian citizens were also spotted.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina distributed prizes among the teams.
Both teams came into the final on the back of good performances in the semifinals but Tajikistan looked better in movement, passing, build-up and ball possession against Palestine, who got less time to recover following their 2-0 win over Bangladesh in the semifinals.
Despite a dominating performance right from the word go on the rain-soaked slippery ground, Tajikistan hardly exposed the defence of Palestine, who however created more chances in the first half.
However, Tajikistan goalkeeper Rizoev Rustam stood tall to thwart at least two good efforts in the first half before the woodwork came to their rescue. The Central Asian nation were reduced to ten men in the 35th minute as captain Fatkhullo Fatkhulloev was sent following a scuffle with Palestine striker Sameh Maraaba.
Maraaba, however, came close to breaking the deadlock in the 14th minute but he drove off target from inside the box after availing a square-pass from Abdullah Jaber before Tajikistan goalkeeper Rustam palmed away Helal Mousa's low drive ten minutes later.
In the next minute, Palestine squandered the easiest opportunity from a counterattack when Khaled Salem raced into the box to nutmeg two defenders but hit the crossbar while Rustam saved Batran Islam's drive on the half-hour mark.
Five minutes later, Maraaba fouled Tajikistan captain Fatkhulloev, who retaliated with a violent push to receive his marching orders. Despite the numerical disadvantage, Tajikistan did not give up and instead looked better in the second half.
In the 76th minute, Nazarov Akhtam drove a powerful shot which rattled the cross-bar after a deflection from Palestine a defender and substitute Bozorov Dilshod poked home but was ruled out due to off-side while substitute Bozorov Dilshod failed to connect with a low cross from substitute Abdugafarov Oibek in front of an open net.
In extra-time, Palestine created two good chances but both efforts narrowly missed the target and the final rolled into tiebreakers for the first time in the tournament's history.
Tajikistan sent substitute goalkeeper Khairiev Behruz in place of Rustam but the goalkeeper failed to repay the coach's faith and left with a runners-up trophy from the field where they had clinched the inaugural AFC Challenge Cup in 2006.