India thrash fatigued Pakistan 4-0 in SAFF Championship opener [Dawn]

India thrash fatigued Pakistan 4-0 in SAFF Championship opener [Dawn]

BANGALORE: Forced to play less than 12 hours after landing in Bangalore, Pakistan got off to a horror start in their SAFF Championship opener against India but they regrouped and avoided losing by a landslide. It finished 4-0 on Wednesday but it could’ve been worse.

Goals by Sunil Chettri had seen India go 2-0 up inside the opening 16 minutes — their first coming after a dreadful error by goalkeeper Saqib Hanif — with Pakistan seemingly suffering from the effects of their long trip from Mauritius.

The majority of Pakistan’s squad had touched down in Bangalore just seven hours before their Group ‘A’ opener, which the South Asian Football Federation had refused to reschedule, but they held on in pouring rain at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium until Chettri scored his second penalty of the game in the 75th; the goal moving him up to fourth in the all-time international scorers’ list.

Udanta Singh Kumam then wrapped up the scoring in the 80th and Pakistan now face an uphill task if they are to advance from the group. Next up for them are Kuwait on Saturday with Rui Bento’s side in high spirits after defeating Nepal 3-1 in the tournament opener earlier on Wednesday.

India made a fast start but it was Pakistan who came the closest to scoring in the first five minutes; Hassan Bashir’s header from a corner flashing wide.

The next 10 minutes were calamitous for Pakistan. Seven minutes in, Saqib’s clearance fell straight to Chettri but the resulting shot was deflected and fell straight into his hands.

He didn’t get lucky three minutes later. This time, he completely miscued his clearance after a backpass from Abdullah Iqbal and Chettri pounced to find the back of the net. A distraught Saqib fell on the turf, his head in his hands.

Five minutes later, India doubled their advantage. Anirudh Thapa’s shot from just outside the box hit the outstretched arm of Easah Suliman and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Saqib guessed correctly and dived to his right but Chettri’s penalty had too much power.

As Chettri moved level on 89 international goals with Malaysia’s Mokhtar Dahari, India looked ominous. They kept coming at Pakistan but it was probably their failure to convert their chances that saw their coach Igor Stimac lose his head.

Pakistan had a throw-in and as Abdullah prepared to take it, the Croat knocked the ball off his hands. Tempers flared, resulting in a melee on the touchline with the referee sending Stimac to the stands.

The loss of their coach didn’t disrupt India’s momentum with Sahal Abdul Samad failing to connect to a rebound with the goal gaping after a cutback by Ashique Kuruniyan minutes into the second half. Past the hour mark, Jeakson Singh saw his header come off the post.

But India weren’t to be denied for long. Chettri ran into the box from the right but was bundled over by Mohammad Sufyan and dispatched the resulting penalty. Now he’s only behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Ali Daei and Lionel Messi.

Ten minutes from time, an unmarked Udanta got on the end of a ball from Anwar Ali’s ball and beat Saqib to complete the misery for Pakistan.

Earlier, Kuwait were utterly dominant against Nepal, taking a 2-0 lead in the first half thanks to Khaled Hajiah’s header from a corner in the 23rd minute and Shabaib Alkahldi’s brilliant finish in the 42nd.Mohammad Abdullah made it 3-0 from the spot in the 65th before Nepal got a consolation through Anjan Bista.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2023