Palestine became the first team to successfully defend the title of the Bangabandhu Gold Cup following a comprehensive 3-1 win over Burundi in the final of the sixth edition at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
The top-ranked side in the tournament, albeit playing with a second-string squad, cruised to a 3-0 lead within half hour and, despite conceding their first goal of the tournament on the hour-mark, comfortably saw off the rest of the time to win their second title of this invitational tournament in their second appearance.
The balance of this Palestine side proved too much for an erratic Burundi team, who too had brought an understrength side to this competition.
Burundi had scored 10 goals in their first three matches, with Jospin Nshimirimana bagging seven of those including two hattricks, but the spark in the attacking third was defused efficiently by the Palestinians while their defence was as vulnerable as ever.
The Palestinian forwards, though, were on target each of the three times they manoeuvred the ball through towards the Burundi box, with Khaled Salem, Sameh Maraaba and Layth Kharoub punishing their opposition for their sloppy defensive work in the first half.
Salem opened the scoring in the third minute, tapping home Mohamed Darwish’s square-pass on a lob from captain Maraaba as the entire Burundi defence was caught napping.
The skipper doubled the lead seven minutes later when his speculative chip looped into the net as the Burundi defence failed to deal with a corner.
And then Kharoub got the third, slotting home a rebound on 26 minutes after Salem’s powerful shot had come off the post.
That was very much game, set and match for the defending champions, who were happy to sit back and wait for hitting on the break.
Unable to penetrate down the flank, which was the Plan A for Burundi, the East African side tried a few shots from distance, with Narcisse Masudi’s long-range effort on 21 minutes and Nshimirimana’s spectacular side-volley on 38 minutes being their best attempts of the half, but Palestine goalkeeper Abuhammad Tawfiq was agile enough to keep those attempts out.
Burundi, who were dreaming of winning their first-ever international trophy, had more possession after the break as Palestine sat deep, but their efforts yielded only one goal on the hour-mark.
Asman Ndikumana got that goal, placing the ball home from inside the box after Blanchard Ngabonziza had teed it up for him with a deflected cross following a corner.
There were chances in either end in the late stages of the game, with Burundi looking to reduce the arrears and Palestine looking to take advantage of the opposition’s desperation, but none were taken as the Middle Eastern side comfortably took home the title.
"We are happy for our people. We played as a team. We knew they (Burundi) would attack through flanks which we blocked. We were determined not to concede. It was not an easy final because Burundi are strong and aggressive and they have good strikers. We changed our tactics after going 3-0 up; we tried to keep defensive organisation to keep a clean sheet."
"We are disappointed as we thought we would win. We were a bit casual. After going 3-0 down, we changed tactics and increased forwards in place of defenders, but they played defensively. We still thought we could come back but it proved to be difficult."