By Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
The Shaheens were unable to match the Lebanese outfit for most of the game, but escaped with a goal to their name thanks to the brilliant solo effort of captain Kaleemullah.
Pakistan started the game on the back-foot with the defence and goalkeeper looking shaky. Those early jitters came back to haunt Pakistan almost immediately as Lebanon scored with a brilliant goal from outside the box that Saqib Hanif should have saved.
Up-front, the Shaheens relied primarily on Kaleemullah for moments of magic and the skipper had a try from a free-kick but it went well wide. On the other end, Lebanon made well use of Pakistan’s shoddy defending and pulled another back from a header with Saqib again being guilty of letting in a soft goal.
But things took an unexpected turn right from the kick-0ff as captain Kaleem unleashed a super strike into the top corner that keeper Abbas Hassan could only look at and admire. The Chaman born star netted his fourth International goal and gave Pakistan a chance of coming back into the game.
That allowed Pakistan to settle into the tie and slowly but surely, the Shaheens increased ball control in the middle of the park with holding midfielder Saddam Hussain looking impressive.
While Saddam impressed with scorching try from long-range shortly after, his compatriot Kaleem failed to convert the ensuing clearance from Lebanon’s Abbas.
The hosts, though, took advantage of Pakistan’s make0-shift defence and exploited the flanks but defender Mohammad Bilal kept them at bay with several good tackles.
With confidence boosted, youngster Mansoor Khan tried his luck from an ambitious free-kick that floated well-wide in the end and resulted in some quick attacks from Lebanon.
But the Shaheens held and went into the break with the scoreboard reading 2:1.
The opening exchanges of the last 45 minutes saw Mansoor gather Yellow, while Saqib Hanif atoned for his early errors by pulling off a spectacular save from a long-range Lebanese strike. The KRL goalkeeper was once again called into action after a looping cross almost found its way into the top corner, but Saqib kept a cool mind and managed to avert a potential crisis by dropping the ball before he fell into the net.
Coach Shamlan saw the opportunity to make his first change and brought off the Mohammad Riaz and sent on Mehmood Khan to change things around. The tactician also switched goalkeepers and brought on HBL’s Ahsanullah to replace Saqib on 66 minutes.
The debutante pulled off a sensational save shortly after from a header and immediately justified his appearance on the pitch by keeping Lebanon’s score at 2-1.
Bahraini boss Shamlan also made three changes in the following minutes, with Saadullah coming off for Rashid Ali, Mohsin replacing Ahsanullah and the injured Faisal Iqbal giving way to Shahid Zameer.
But the changes weren’t enough to prevent Lebanon from scoring the third as a long-range shot wasn’t cleared by the Pakistani defence and ultimately the Cedars comfortably scored their third.
However, that was the last change in the score-line as Pakistan ended the game with a respectable 3-1 result, which is certain to please coach Shamlan as he prepares for the U-22 AFC Qualifiers in June.