ST PIERRE (Mauritius): With the defence reinforced, Pakistan showed greater resolve and even though the national team fell to a 1-0 loss to Kenya on Wednesday there were signs of improvement.
Even Kenya coach Engin Firat felt it. Pakistan came into the game after being pummeled by hosts Mauritius in a 3-0 loss in their Four Nations Series opener on Sunday but the central defensive pairing of debutant Easah Suliman and Abdullah Iqbal ensured a more composed performance.
“Credit to Pakistan for playing like it was their final game,” was Firat’s assesment after the game at the Cote d’Or Sports Complex. “Their players defended deep and I am not impressed how we played and it was very slow. 1-0 is not enough for me.”
Kenya were playing their first match at the tournament after they missed their scheduled opener against Djibouti on Sunday. A debutant stood out for them too with Moses Shummah scoring what proved to be the winner in the first half.
Shummah pounced on a loose ball just inside the box after a shot from Eric Ouma was blocked and lobbed the ball over Pakistan goalkeeper Yousuf Butt in the 18th minute to ensure the first victory for his side since the ban imposed by FIFA on Kenya was lifted last year. On their return to the international fold, Kenya lost 2-1 to Iran in March.
“We didn’t have seven players from that game [against Iran] and there were new players who were not at the level,” added Firat.
The loss meant that Pakistan are winless and scoreless in four matches since a similar suspension on them was lifted in June last year. But the performance against a side ranked 93 places above them in the FIFA rankings will give them heart ahead of their final match of the round-robin tournament against Djibouti on Saturday.
“The way we played showed we are taking the right steps,” Pakistan coach Shehzad Anwar said after the match. “Now our focus is on how we play against Djibouti and hopefully get a victory.”
After the four-nations cup, Pakistan are due to travel for the SAFF Championship in India, where they play against the hosts in the opener on June 21 and with Easah and Abdullah adding steel the backline, Shahzad will be confident that his side can improve further.
“Obviously it’s never nice to lose the game but we can see small improvements from the last game,” said Easah. “We have to take it step by step now and keep working.”
Former England under-20 defender Easah, who plays in the Portuguese second division, and Abdullah, who plays in the Danish second tier, didn’t allow Kenya to make forays into the box as regularly as Mauritius had done in the opening game.
The duo were playing just a day after arriving in Mauritius and forced Shummah and his strike partner, Kenya captain Michael Olunga, to feed off scraps for large intervals although Olunga had a header saved by Yousuf 18 minutes from time.
Pakistan’s midfield showed better control with the experienced Hassan Bashir, who started the game as the team’s frontman, providing good holdup play. They did carve a few chances, including one that fell to Hassan in the 40th, and were the better team in the second half but the leveller eluded them.
“We had a better game but we lost,” rued Shahzad.
His emotions were in stark contrast to Kenyan midfielder Richard Odada, who covered a lot of ground and was named man-of-the-match.
“We arrived late for the tournament but we played well and were relaxed,” he said. “We’ll be looking to give our best in the next game against Mauritius.”