Pakistan end SAFF campaign with another loss [Dawn]

Pakistan end SAFF campaign with another loss [Dawn]

BANGALORE: The way Pakistan conceded the goal that condemned them to defeat against Nepal encapsulated their campaign at the SAFF Championship.

When Aashish Chaudhary’s rather tame shot beat goalkeeper Yousuf Butt at his near post in the 80th minute of their final Group ‘A’ game at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Tuesday, Pakistan knew they had to do something to at least return home with a point.

They tried but ultimately failed, the 1-0 defeat seeing them finish dead last in the group.

Shehzad Anwar’s men have now lost all six matches they’ve played in June, including three in Mauritius during the Four Nations Series. It’s now eight defeats on the trot since the FIFA suspension on Pakistan was lifted in June last year. In those eight games, Pakistan have got on the scoresheet just once.

The recurring theme has been that Pakistan need more time and Shehzad repeated the narrative at the post-match press conference.

“As you know, Pakistan Football Federation is in a rebuilding phase,” he said. “We had a strong group with India and Kuwait but against Nepal we had a good game. Step by step we are improving.”

Pakistan had suffered 4-0 defeats to both India and Kuwait in their first two games in Bangalore to crash out of semi-final contention. Even a draw against Nepal would’ve saved face but the loss shows that the team has a lot of work to do in order to close the gap on other teams in South Asia.

“We need matches …. the more matches, the better it will be for us,” Shehzad stated. “We have the FIFA window in September so we would like to arrange two games and continue our preparation for the World Cup Qualifiers.”

Pakistan have never won a World Cup qualifier and are set to embark on the qualifying campaign for the 2026 tournament in the first round.

Despite an overwhelming presence of foreign-based players, results haven’t come for the team and Shehzad argued that the players needed to spend more time together.

“We need more time to make major improvements,” he said. “We only get these players during the international windows so we will try requesting the clubs to send the players 10 to 15 days before, so we can train with the team longer and have a chance to win some matches.”

It is painfully obvious though that Pakistan football is in desperate need of a proper domestic structure as they lost to a Nepal team that featured only homegrown talent and was also out of the running for the semis.

“I’m happy for what the team has achieved in the competition,” Nepal coach Vincenzo Alberto told reporters at the press conference after the match. “We had limited days to prepare and the team played well in the different formats that we used.”

The first half was rather tepid with both the teams struggling a bit to find their range and rhythm, although Nepal enjoyed superior possession.

The pace picked up in the second half as Nepal and Pakistan went for the jugular. The first clear chance came Nepal’s way as a cross from the right wing found Nawayug Shrestha unmarked but his header sailed over the bar.

Nepal intensified their sorties and came close to scoring a goal in the 60th minute. Manish Dangi just had to slot the ball past Yousuf but a weak shot was parried away by the Pakistan custodian.

Eight minutes later, Shrestha took a lovely free-kick that curled into the Pakistan goal but the woodwork denied the Nepal midfielder.

Just as it appeared that the match was heading for a goalless draw, Sanish Shrestha found Aashish inside the box with a through ball and his shot squirmed past Yousuf to heap more misery on Pakistan.

Kuwait finished top of the group, on goals scored ahead of India, after they were gifted an equaliser deep into stoppage time to hold the hosts to a 1-1 draw in the day’s other match.

Skipper Sunit Chhetri got India’s opener in first-half injury time with a side-footed volley off a corner by Anirudh Thapa. Kuwait pressed for a leveller and emotions erupted with India coach Igor Stimac shown a red card with just about 10 minutes to play as he protested a referee’s decision.

Stimac’s ejection, which came after he was also shown a red card in their win against Pakistan, prompted another melee in the 88th minute which led to a brawl that saw India’s Rahim Ali and Kuwait’s Hamad Alqallaf sent off.

Kuwait’s equaliser came in bizarre fashion three minutes past the ninety when India defender Anwar Ali, looking to clear the ball away on the left, ended up chipping it behind over the goalkeeper and into his own goal.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2023