by Faizan Liaquat
Team Pakistan U23’s Asian Games 2018 campaign comes down to its last group game against fellow SAFF side Nepal U23 tomorrow. Both Nepal and Pakistan have lost their previous games to both Vietnam U23 and Japan U23 who not only qualify for the knockout stage but also face each other the same day to decide the winners of Group D.
The previous game against high flying Japan saw Pakistan having a horror start conceded 3 goals in first 10 minutes to lose 4-0. Yuto Iwasaki beat an attempted Pakistani offside trap by neatly controlled a long ball from his defence and finished passed an onrushing Saqib Hanif to make it 1-0 in in 2nd minute. Soon after Saqib almost gifted Japan a second when his poor clearance was blocked by Daizen Maeda and nearly conceded. Reo Hatate, who looked dangerous from the start, made it 2-0 in 9th minute thanks to some terrible defending by Mohsin Ali and Shahbaz Younas allowing him to finish a sweet ball from Takuma Ominami.
A minute later, Maeda made it 3-0 with Japan clearly toying with Pakistan’s defensive disorganisation. In 35th minute, Pakistan conceded another when captain Saddam Hussain’s attempted pass to a slow Zainul Abideen Ishaque was intercepted and a quick attack allowed Iwasaki to evade three defenders before beating Saqib with a super shot. It was surely the goal of the game with a 4-0 at half time.
Japan were equally good in second half, they had a fine-looking chance to further increase their lead but Pakistan managed to keep score 4-0 with some fortunate defending though the eventual winners could relax having wrapped up the game much earlier with Pakistan offering no threat.
In last group game, both Nepal and Pakistan would want a big win against each other if they are to have chance to finish among the best 3rd place teams to qualify for next round. Even though Nepal U23s have lost their last nine competitive encounters, they would have the advantage having played together for a while whilst Pakistan faced international isolation due to PFF infighting for 3 years.
The coaching staff should try to implement some kind of strategy for this game if they are to salvage something tomorrow. With nothing more to lose, Pakistan should try to give some playing time to all those players who didn’t play the previous games as this is almost over for team Pakistan. SSGC’s Ahsanullah should start in goal instead of Saqib Hanif just to get some international football action. Midfielder Muhammad Riaz and defender Mehdi Hassan should also make way for other players as both were so disappointing in this tournament.
Third and final game of Pakistan U23 vs Nepal U23 in Asian Games 2018 will start at 14:00 PST on Sunday 19th August.