KATHMANDU: On their first international match in eight years, Pakistan fought valiantly only to go down 3-0 to India in their SAFF Women’s Championship opener on Wednesday.
It wasn’t a bad result by any stretch, though, considering Pakistan, whose women footballers have faced international exile since 2014 due to an institutional crisis in the Pakistan Football Federation, were facing a side that has won each of the five editions of the tournament since its inception in 2010.
But it offers hope for better performances in the Pakistan’s matches to come in Group ‘A’ against Bangladesh and Maldives.
Pakistan defended bravely in a game where star striker Hajra Khan played as wing-back but an unfortunate own goal by captain Maria Jamila Khan and a strike from Dangmei Grace in the first half effectively settled the contest in India’s favour before Soumya Gaguloth completed the scoring in added time.
The win extended India’s unbeaten run to 27 matches at the tournament but they were made to work by Pakistan at the Dasharath Stadium.
India bossed possession with Anu Tamang being influential as their playmaker in the middle while Pakistan looked to spring on the counterattack.
And it was an unlucky moment for Maria, making her debut, that gave India the lead in the 15th minute.
Sandhiya Ranganathan, operating down the left, sent in a cross which goalkeeper Mahpara Shahid got a hand to but the rebound hit the onrushing Maria and rolled into the net.
India made it 2-0 two minutes later when Anju collected the ball just outside the box and threaded a pass through several Pakistan defenders for Grace to latch onto and slip the ball between Mahpara and her near post.
It would’ve been 3-0 just before the hour mark but Ranjana Chanu’s left-footed shot came back off the post.
Pakistan regrouped and earned a free-kick in the early stages of the second half which Maria shot straight at Aditi Chauhan.
It was one of Pakistan’s rare forays forward with Zulfia Nazir often being the lone player up front, waiting for a pass from the back.
Their defence continued to hold out until stoppage time when Soumya clinically finished off Ranjana’s cross from the left.
Pakistan will play their next match against Bangladesh, who ran out 3-0 winners over the Maldives in the other group game on Tuesday thanks to a brace from skipper Sabina Khatun and a goal from Masura Parvin.
Sabina opened the scoring in the 32nd minute after Maldives goalkeeper Aminath Leeza misjudged her shot and Masura doubled Bangladesh’s lead two minutes later with a shot into the bottom left corner.
Bangladesh wrapped up the scoring by the 40th when Leeza parried a long-range effort from Maria Manda but Sabina was there to poke home the rebound.