Mohun Bagan qualify for AFC Cup beating Abahani 3-1 | Football News - Hindustan Times
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Mohun Bagan qualify for AFC Cup beating Abahani 3-1

By, Kolkata
Aug 22, 2023 09:54 PM IST

Kolkata giants overcome early scare with two quick second-half goals after Jason Cummings helped them draw level

Mohun Bagan Super Giant, looking anything but for a sustained period in the first half, qualified for the AFC Cup main round with a 3-1 win against Abahani Dhaka in the play-off at Salt Lake stadium here on Tuesday.

Kolkata, India - Aug. 22, 2023: Armando Sadiku (99) of Mohun Bagan SG (IND) celebrates his goal against Abahani Limited Dhaka (BAN) in AFC Cup 2023-24 (Preliminary) at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, India, on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. (Samir Jana/ Hindustan Times)
Kolkata, India - Aug. 22, 2023: Armando Sadiku (99) of Mohun Bagan SG (IND) celebrates his goal against Abahani Limited Dhaka (BAN) in AFC Cup 2023-24 (Preliminary) at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, India, on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. (Samir Jana/ Hindustan Times)

Rattled by Cornelius Ezekiel’s 17th minute goal, Mohun Bagan equalised through a penalty from Jason Cummings (37th) before an own-goal by Milad Soleimani – the defender was unable to steer Hugo Boumous’ delivery away from danger – in the 58th minute and Armando Sadiku’s goal in the 60th, off a corner-kick taken short by Boumous and played in by Liston Colaco, sealed the deal.

But for 20 minutes after Ezekiel was gifted a goal till the equaliser, Mohun Bagan were rattled. This wasn’t how the final qualifier was supposed to pan out. Not for a team that has stated that its aim is to better two successive inter-zonal semi-final berths, if not go all the way in Asia’s second-level competition.

To that end, Mohun Bagan have assembled an array of stars. There were six India players in the starting list along with Cummings, who played for Australia in the last World Cup, and Sadiku, the scorer of Albania’s first win in a European championship finals in 2016. In the line-up was Boumous, whose ball skills have wowed the Indian Super League (ISL) since the French-Moroccan fetched up five years ago, and newcomer Hector Yuste, a tall central defender who has played across clubs in Spain’s second and third divisions. This was a starting 11 that couldn’t accommodate India regulars Manvir Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan, both coming on as late substitutes.

It should have been enough to take care of a team from Bangladesh that couldn’t win their premier league. It looked like that too from the off. Colaco was finding space on the left and Asish Rai on the right as Mohun Bagan lined up with a back three in Anwar Ali, Yuste and Subhasish Bose. Opting for a central midfield pairing of Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad meant Mohun Bagan had one plan of attack, attack; the more defensive minded Glan Martins was a 76th minute introduction.

Cummings was denied early, Samad couldn’t control a Colaco cut-back and Colaco drove over from range. A goal seemed around the corner, the 11,000-odd home team faithful hoped.

And it was. Only at the goal that was under no pressure till then. Vishal Kaith had made one regulation save, in the ninth minute, till then, off Ezekiel. What looked like another regulation save became a shocker when the 2022-23 ISL golden glove winner spilled a lob from Ojukwu David, off Muzaffarjon Muzaffarov’s corner-kick. Ezekiel said thank you with a stab.

Mohun Bagan panicked. This is early in the season and cohesion will take time coming. It is the lack of composure that could worry coach Juan Ferrando. Passes were not going to feet because either the run was hurried or the ball played too soon. Abahani allowed Colaco space but crowded the penalty area ensuring that Mohun Bagan did not have a look on goal. There were some desperate defending too and two good saves, off Samad and Boumous, by goalkeeper Mohammed Alam.

In the end, Abahani’s low block couldn’t deal with the pressure. Defender Sushanto Tripura felled Colaco in the box and Iranian referee Bijan Heidari pointed to the spot. Cummings rifled the left-footer and Mohun Bagan began to breathe again.

Cummings went close early in the second half and it helped Mohun Bagan settle down. The gulf in quality began to show, and with two quick goals Mohun Bagan ensured a third successive AFC Cup group league berth.

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