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Analysis: Brilliant Barcos lights up Bangabandhu

Dhaka: Bashundhara Kings enjoyed the perfect start to their debut AFC Cup campaign with the Bangladesh champions posting a 5-1 victory over the Maldives’ TC Sports Club in Group E on Wednesday as the 2020 AFC Cup’s South Zone got underway. 

In a week that saw Ceres Negros’ Bienvenido Maranon become the AFC Cup’s all-time leading scorer, former Argentina international Hernan Barcos showed there was plenty of attacking talent elsewhere as he inspired the newcomers to three points at Bangabandhu National Stadium.

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The new king of Bashundhara

The acquisition of Barcos ahead of the 2020 AFC Cup highlighted the ambition of the 2018-19 Bangladeshi champions and the much-travelled 35-year-old Argentine delivered the goods with a display that will live long in the memory.

It took ‘El Pirata’ less than 20 minutes to head home his first goal and delight the home support with his trademark pirate celebration, before he put Bashundhara back in front with another header in the 26th minute.

A second-half penalty and a coolly taken lofted goal in stoppage time rounded off a stunning debut, and if there were any doubts surrounding the enduring quality of the former Shanghai Shenhua and Gremio man, they were answered in emphatic style.

In total, Barcos managed six attempts on goal, with his four on target all finding the back of the net. And while his scoring ability will be crucial for Bashundhara’s chances of advancing to the next stage, his experience and knowhow may prove just as valuable.

Spot of bother

A battle of minds between Bashundhara ‘keeper Anisur Rahman and TC Sports Club’s Ismail Easa was an intriguing affair with the duo going head to head from the penalty spot three times and the custodian proving the midfielder’s nemesis.

The visitors were awarded a penalty five minutes after Bashundhara’s opener and, although Easa saw Rahman dive to his left to save, he volleyed the rebound into the back of the net. Whether the original miss stuck in his mind, however, only he will know.

Early in the second half, TC Sports Club were offered another chance to level from the spot and the pair faced off once more. This time Rahman went right and saved again, only to be adjudged to have come off his line too soon as the referee ordered the kick to be retaken.

Having seen two penalties saved, the pressure was undoubtedly on Easa as he lined up for a third time. The midfielder went left with what was his best penalty, but Rahman saved superbly and that miss - coupled with Barcos' successful spot kick 14 minutes later - saw the visitors’ hopes evaporate.

Veteran Ashfaq offers hope

With 29 AFC Cup goals to his name, Ali Ashfaq is seventh in the all-time top scorers’ list, with the Maldivian legend netting his first in the inaugural edition for Club Valencia back in 2004.

An off-target header in the first half following good movement in the box was Ashfaq’s best chance, while a powerful second-half effort was well blocked by the home defence as his bid to score his first AFC Cup goal since facing another Bangladeshi team, Abahani Limited Dhaka, in 2018 proved unsuccessful.

But in a contest that saw Bashundhara largely on top, the focal point of TC Sports Club’s attack got about the pitch well, managing 42 touches (below), winning more duels than he lost (7–5) and posting a passing accuracy of 76%, while he also created two chances.

With another Maldivian side, Maziya S&R, also in Group E, TC Sports Club will play their next four games on home soil, offering them a chance to bounce back from the opening-day disappointment. If they are to do so, Ashfaq will likely have a key role to play. 

Bashundhara, meanwhile, travel to the Maldives in mid-April to face Maziya, with their hopes of following in the footsteps of Abahani and progressing to the knockout rounds surely enhanced after a dream start to their campaign.

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