Bangladesh Premier League champions Abahani got off to a winning start in the AFC Cup, withstanding huge pressure from Nepal A Division champions Manang Marshyangdi to register a single-goal win over the hosts at the ANFA Complex ground in Lalitpur yesterday.
Afghan defender Masih Saighani struck the all-important goal in the 27th minute as the Sky Blues tasted victory in an AFC Cup opener for the first time after suffering losses in the past two editions of Asia's second-tier club competition.
Abahani were under tremendous pressure from the start and it was the home side, playing the AFC Cup for the first time, who created the first chance in front of some 1,500 spectators. However, Abahani captain-cum-goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel thwarted Bishal Rai's fifth-minute effort.
Anjan Bista then came close to breaking the deadlock but Abahani were saved by the woodwork.
The hosts continued to dominate Abahani, whose choice of playing with three centrebacks -- Raihan Hasan, Wali Faisal ad Tutul Hossain Badsha -- worked well and kept the Manang forwards at bay.
Having survived the initial pressure, Abahani regrouped well and realised two successive corners. From the second, Wali Faisal played the ball to Rubel Mia from the left and the winger released a nice chip for Saighani, who rose timely to nod home from very close range in the 28th minute, silencing the home crowd.
However, Abahani were again under constant pressure and struggled to build up the game, eventually opting to attack on the break in the second half.
Anjan Bishta went close to getting the equaliser but young defender Tutul Hossain Badsha put in a brilliant tackle at the cost of a corner kick. Badsha was in the thick of things soon again, denying Nigerian striker Somide Oluwawunmi Adelaja with a brilliant sliding tackle in the 68th minute to preserve Abahani's lead.
"It was tough. Manang Marshyangdi were more comfortable on the ball. It took some time to adjust to the surface," Abahani coach Mario Lemos said after the game. "In the first half we allowed a bit too much for their midfielders to play. We corrected it at half time and we did not allow them to create many chances thereafter.
The Portuguese also believed that it was a deserved win despite his side often being on the back foot.
"I think we deserved [the win]. We had better chances to score, Sunday hit the post and before the game I said that if we defended well and did not concede, we would have a big chance. They had a lot of possession but very far from our goal, with the game 1-0 we tried to be patient and wait for a mistake and score a second trough a counter attack."