Mourtada Fall plots Odisha FC's rise in AFC Cup race
11 Dec 2023

Odisha FC 1 (Mourtada Fall, 61’)
Bashundhara Kings 0

Akhil Rawat
AIFF Media Team

BHUBANESWAR: Odisha FC brightened up the atmosphere at the floodlit Kalinga Stadium when they entered the inter-zonal playoff semi-finals of the AFC Cup with a solitary goal win over 10-man Bashundhara Kings (Bangladesh) on Monday, December 10, 2023.

While the goodly crowd in the stands celebrated the home side’s maiden entry into the knock-out rounds of the continental tournament, the mood in the rival camp was one of complete gloom and despair. Needing only a draw to cross the group hurdles, the Bangladesh side lost the plot partly because of their own undoing. A calmer approach to the situation could have brought them the desired result, but Bashundhara messed it up completely when they lost one of their key players, Asror Gafurov, to a red card decision minutes before the half time whistle.

Odisha FC knew there was no escape from the fact that only a three-pointer could fetch them progression to the next round. So, they decided to go for attacks from the very beginning and it certainly earned them dividends. While Mourtada Fall was the hero for the home side because of the crucial header that brought them the only goal of the match in the 61st minute, midfielder Ahmed Jahouh remained the driving force behind the Odisha side.

The Moroccan was in the thick of things from the beginning; passing, creating chances and controlling the midfield with clever movements. It was Jahouh, who took the game-changing corner in the 61st minute, a neat floater that eluded the defenders before getting in at the right place for Fall to execute the header. Bashundhara defenders, though, didn’t do themselves any favour, as none of them made the effort to challenge Fall, who had all the time in the world to put the ball into the corner of the net.

Jahouh was involved in another incident, which literally put paid to the Bashundhara Kings’ hopes. Minutes before the half time whistle, their Uzbek midfielder Asror Gafurov went for a crushing tackle from behind on Jahouh and was given the marching orders by the Vietnamese referee. Gafurov was earlier verbally warned by the referee for excessive physical play, but he did not heed the advice. As Bashundhara players, joined by their men at the bench, loudly protested the decision, the referee remained firm. It was a suicidal act by Gafurov that buried all the plans Bashundhara had.

All said and done, Odisha FC were the deserving winners. They played better than their rivals and created more opportunities. Had Roy Krishna or Diego Mauricio been more accurate at the goalmouth, the Bangladesh side would have returned home with a bigger defeat. Bashundhara goalkeeper Mehdi Hasan Srabon had a good day in the office, which was one of the reasons why they didn’t concede more goals. Srabon is only 18 years old, but he has a mature head on his shoulders. While his teammates often lost their cool, Srabon was a picture of confidence and composure. He made several saves against rampaging Odisha strikers at regular intervals.

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