Hapless Pakistan crash out of Challenge Cup contention

Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: Pakistan’s hopes of making it to the AFC Challenge Cup proper were dashed on Wednesday as they lost 3-1 to a formidable Indian side in their second Group B match of the qualifiers at the MBJP Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

On a day when Pakistan’s cricket fans were looking towards a possible meeting with India in the semifinal of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the Greenshirts, who needed a victory after their 3-0 loss to Turkmenistan in the opening game to stay in contention for a spot in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup, left football fans disappointed with a defeat to their arch-rivals.

India dominated the early exchanges and star striker Sunil Chettri, who has played for Kansas City Wizards in Major League Soccer (MLS), had a shot deflected in the fifth nminute before Pakistan’s star defender Zeeshan Rehman came rescued his team five minutes later.

Pakistan took the lead when Arif Mehmood struck a fine goal in the 33rd minute which they held on till half-time.

In the second-half, India took control of the proceedings and Jeji Lalpekkhulua scored the equaliser when he accelerated onto Chhetri’s pass before nudging in a shot past goalkeeper Aamir Gul for his second goal in the competition in the 67th.

Jeji came close with a shot in the 85th minute before Steven Dias stunned Pakistan in the 90th to make it 2-1.

Jeje then made the scoreline more flattering for the Indians with his second goal in injury time to help India qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup.

Pakistan will now face Chinese Taipei in their last pool game on Friday (tomorrow).

Turkmenistan confirmed a slot in the eight-team tournament after beating Chinese Taipei 2-0 at the same venue.

This correspondent tried to contact head coach Tariq Lutfi but he was not available for comment. Back-to-back defeats in the event in spite of having what Lutfi called the ‘best-ever’ side should be disturbing for the authorities.

“Likes and dislikes have incurred an unprecedented damage on Pakistan football. Senior players are not given due respect and if any one reaches 25 to 26 years of age, he is dropped from the side. It is high time to invite the seniors and once the combination is made, it should not be broken,” former Pakistan’s captain Mohammad Essa told ‘The News’.

“Just having a good side is not sufficient for earning victories but you need solid planning and positive approach to run a team in international circuit. The PFF should hire a productive foreign coach and should stick to a certain team which could be converted into a fighting lot.”

Meanwhile, former Pakistan coach Akhtar Mohiuddin said that the PFF had spent a hefty purse on the preparation of the team but to no avail.

“For the first time, Pakistan had a nice combination but still the result is disappointing. Had Pakistan used its senior team in the series against Palestine it could have prepared the charges well for the AFC Challenge Cup. Now it’s right time for PFF to think for the future,” Akhtar said.