Nigerian marksman Sunday Chizoba scored a hattrick as holders Abahani made it to the final of the Federation Cup for the 18th time with a 4-2 win over Sheikh Jamal DC in the first semifinal of the 30th edition of season's curtain-raising tournament at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
The win over a spirited Sheikh Jamal took the 10-time champions to the verge of their second hattrick title in the tournament's history, with archrivals Mohammedan Sporting Club being their closest competitors having clinched the title 10 times in 14 final appearances.
The Sky Blues will surpass their perennial rivals in the title tally if they can beat the winners of today's second semifinal between Sheikh Russel KC and newcomers Bashundhara Kings.
Five-time finalists Sheikh Jamal, on the other hand, had to quit the race from the semifinal stage for the third time in a row and were yet again undone by their nemesis Abahani.
Sheikh Jamal made a brilliant start to the game with some unfamiliar names and four foreign recruits, and it was only due to a couple of brilliant saves from Abahani goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel that the scoreline remained 0-0 at the end of the first half.
The Sky Blues, though, took the lead in the 56th minute, thanks to Afghan recruit Masih Saighani's goal following a corner from Rubel Mia.
Sunday made it 2-0 in the 65th minute by converting a 'controversial penalty' awarded by referee Mizanur Rahman. Abahani looked like they were heading for certain victory, but Sheikh Jamal substitute Didarul Alam made things interesting by reducing the margin in the 79th minute. Two minutes later Sunday restored Abahani's two-goal cushion by heading home a free-kick from Wali Faisal, but Didarul once again found the back of the net from a goal-mouth-melee in the 81st minute to make it 3-2.
With Sheikh Jamal stepping up the attack in search of an equaliser, Sunday hammered the final nail in Sheikh Jamal's coffin in the 86th minute with a powerful shot from the edge of the box.
“First of all I want to thank God because it is not my power; it is God who gave me strength to score. I also want to thank my teammates because I can't score without their support,” said Abahani's long-serving striker Sunday, who is now on top of the scorer's chart alongside Bashundhara Kings' Daniel Colindres with four goals each.
“Everybody comes to win, no one comes to lose the match. We played well and won the match. We love each other and do everything together; there is no individual work, it is team work. That's the recipe for our success,” said Sunday after receiving the man-of-the-match trophy.