By Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
Pakistan lost the first leg of their 2018 FIFA World Cup pre-qualifier 3-1 in Doha, Qatar with captain Hassan Bashir scoring the country’s first goal in a World Cup qualifier for over a decade.
The game, which started on an immediate loss for Pakistan, saw Yemen take a 1-0 lead when Muzammil Hussain fouled Ayman Al-Hagri inside the box. And although the keeper saved the resulting penalty, it was diverted into the goal from the follow-up.
Yemen picked up their tempo and launched a cascade of attacks, but Pakistan’s shaky defence held up reasonably well despite the onslaught. In attack, the Pak Shaheens were mostly restricted to shots from outside the box, with Hassan and Kaleemullah both going close with their efforts.
However, it was Svebolle’s Mohammad Ali who had the best chance to equalize and although he managed to direct a powerful shot goalwards after good work from Hassan on the flank, the strike went straight at the Yemeni goalkeeper.
On the other end, it was Al-Hagri who was tormenting Pakistan with ease and defender Mohammad Bilal picked up a yellow card for an elbow to his face on 21 minutes. Coach Shamlan, who started Mohammad Ahmed in midfield, then had another conundrum as the Isa Town player picked up a slight knock and had to subbed to prevent further damage.
His absence in midfield spurred on Yemen, who held the ball for long periods, but failed to make most of their possession count. And at half-time, the hosts led with a narrow 1-0 margin.
Pakistan started the remaining 45 minutes brightly with Hassan going for an audacious free-kick attempt on 46 minutes and Kaleem drifting past three defenders, only to fire one at the keeper.
Then on 51 minutes, coach Shamlan made a surprise decision to change Mohammad Ali, who had looked relatively solid until then for Mohammad Adil, but it was Yemen who changed the score-line once again, this time through a towering header from a corner on 53 minutes.
Muzammil, who hadn’t had much to do directly, then immediately felt the pressure with Yemen ramping up their speed and having a decent crack from inside the box, but the WAPDA glove man denied the goal-bound shot with a good, diving save.
Despite Yemen’s pressing, it was Pakistan who stepped up, with Riaz being fouled in the box and the referee signaling for the game’s second penalty. Captain Hassan stepped up and curled in into the top corner for a world class finish, as the Shaheens looked to make a comeback.
However, it was the Yemenites once again that made the difference, this time midfielder Ali Al-Sasi curling one into the top corner from a free-kick to extend his side’s lead to 3-1 and making Pakistan’s 2nd leg in Lahore a very difficult tie to negotiate.