Newcomers Saif Sporting Club became the second team from Bangladesh to qualify for the AFC Cup playoffs after confirming at least a fourth-place finish in the Bangladesh Premier League following a 2-1 win over Sheikh Russel KC at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Saif SC, Abahani and Mohammedan SC are the only clubs from the country eligible for the AFC Cup as the other nine premier league clubs have failed to meet AFC's club licensing criteria for the second-tier club competition.
Saif SC are supposed to take on TC Sports of Maldives in the first round of playoffs on January 23 at home before playing the away match against the same side on January 30.
Federation Cup champions and league leaders Abahani are on top of the table with 48 points with two matches remaining. They are supposed to represent Bangladesh in the AFC Cup qualifiers directly.
Saif SC's win against Sheikh Russel yesterday – their 10th win in 20 matches -- means Mohammedan SC cannot catch them even if the Black and Whites win their two remaining matches.
Saif SC have 38 points from 20 matches, nine ahead of Mohammedan, who are in fifth position with 29 points from 20 matches.
Saif SC took the lead in the second minute of the match when Sheikh Russel defender Arup Kumar Baidya struck his own net while trying to clear a cross from Jewel Rana.
There was another own goal, for the opposition team this time, in the 48th minute when Saif SC defender Ariful Islam put the ball into his own net while attempting to clear a goal-bound header from opposition defender Megias Bidari.
However, Saif SC restored the lead in the 65th minute, ensuring the victory, with winger Mohammad Ibrahim side-volleying home a lob from Matin Mia.
Meanwhile, Rahmatganj MFS earned a valuable point after four straight defeats with a goalless draw against Team BJMC in the day's first match.
The win helped Rahmatganj share the bottom position with neighbours Farashganj SC with 14 points each from 20 matches.
The relegation battle intensified following the stalemate as both Rahmatganj MFS and Farashganj SC will have to face comparatively stronger opponents in their last two matches.
Rahmatganj will play against Sheikh Russel KC and Saif SC while Farashganj SC will play against Brothers Union and Sheikh Jamal DC.