Bangladesh Premier League champions Abahani completed their AFC Cup campaign with a demoralising 0-4 defeat at the hands of Indian outfit Bengaluru FC in their final Group E match at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Although it was a nightmare for seven-time professional league champions Abahani, the night was overwhelming for Bengaluru, who not only exacted revenge for a 0-2 defeat in the last edition but also confirmed their second-round berth.
With four defeats from six matches, Abahani finished third in the four-team group by virtue of a better goal difference than Aizawl, who are equal with Abahani on four points. Bengaluru finished top with 15 points followed by New Radiant, who secured 12 points.
It was India captain Sunil Chhetri's night, who showed his class by exposing Abahani's five-man backline time and again. He played in the ball for the first three goals before wrapping up the victory with a strike of his own.
Abahani had started in good spirits despite the suspension of three key players -- striker Sunday Chizoba, defender Alison Udoka and midfielder Atiqur Rahman Fahad. However, Udoka's suspension was a huge blow to Abahani as his replacement Tutul Hossain Badsha was powerless in front of the 34-year-old Chhetri.
Not only Badsha, but all the Abahani players lagged behind the Bengaluru players in terms of fitness and were beaten on the run several times.
Bengaluru broke the deadlock from a counter attack in the 13th minute as Chettri raced past Badsha down the left wing before whipping in a low cross which was driven past Abahani goalkeeper Shahidul Alam Sohel by Spaniard Daniel Lucas.
Three minutes later Chettri deceived two defenders on the edge of the box and cut back to Nishu Kumar, who hammered a powerful shot past a motionless Sohel.
Abahani tried their utmost to hit back and played from the wings, but their crossing game was completely negated by tall defender Juan Antonio.
After resumption Bengaluru appeared to be playing in their half and forced Abahani to press higher up. Making the most of that, Chettri cleverly chipped a ball in behind the disorganised backline in the 58th minute before Nishu took the ball down with his chest and drove home with no interference to make it 3-0.
Chettri sealed the win with a well deserved strike from inside the box in the 60th minute after Sohel failed to hold on to a cross from the right flank from defender Harmanjot Singh.
“Age has nothing to do with goals. I love football and work hard. If you want to play at this stage, you have to be fast and I know that well," said Chhetri at the post-match conference. "We knew we had to win and were fully focused on the game. I don't know what may have motivated Abahani because they had nothing to gain from this match."