DHAKA: Pakistan made it to the SAFF Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2005 after they beat a struggling Bhutan side 3-0 at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka on Saturday.
The Green Shirts’ status in the last-four was confirmed later when hosts Bangladesh were knocked out on goal difference after Nepal beat them 2-0 and went through to the semis courtesy goals by Bimal Gharti Magar and Nawayug Shrestha.
Jose Antonio Nogueira’s men fared way better than their opponents in their third and last Group ‘A’ match after poor performances with the ball in their first two outings in the tournament.against Nepal and Bangladesh.
Riaz got Pakistan off the mark in the 20th minute, drilling the ball past Bhutan goalkeeper Jamphel at the near post after a header by skipper Saddam Hussain on a long ball set the K-Electric midfielder up.
Riaz rounded off defender Richen Dorji at the edge of box to open his way on goal.
Bashir doubled the lead nine minutes later with a sliding finish from almost outside the box after a precise pass from Mohammad Ali on the right-flank found him running between Bhutan’s centre-back pairing.
Ali was in the midst of the Pakistan attack once again in the first minute of injury time teeing up substitute Ahmed Faheem who calmly placed it past the near post to seal victory.
“We lost the chance of scoring more goals but three goals was very good for us,” Pakistan head coach Nogueira said.
“This victory is for all the people in the PFF and in Pakistan,” added the Brazilian.
Pakistan could have scored two more goals had Bashir’s header in the 10th and Riaz’s volley in the 41st minute not hit the crossbar.
In contrast to their game-play against Nepal and Bangladesh in their previous two fixtures, Pakistan dominated possession and created more chances than their their struggling opponents.
“It was very tough for us to score three goals and qualify and with God’s grace we will try to win the semi-final and qualify for the final as well,” said Riaz.
Bhutan couldn’t create clear-cut chances but they had a couple of chances in the last 10 minutes.
In the 82nd minute, Kabi Raj Rai headed inches over the bar following a cross from substitute forward Kingay Rabgay before Chencho Gyeltshen’s shot at the near post was saved five minutes later.
“The two guys upfront caused us a lot of problems getting the ball in earlier,” said Nepal coach Trevor Morgan of the Pakistan strikers. “The second half was one of the best 45 minutes we’ve had.”
India play Maldives in the last Group ‘B’ match on Sunday to finalise the semi-final line-up.