KARACHI: Pakistan’s hopes of qualifying for the tournament proper on Tuesday ended when they went 0-1 down against hosts Kyrgyzstan in their second Group B game of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup Qualifiers at the Dolen Omurzakov Stadium in Bishkek.
Pakistan, who were in a must-win situation following a 0-1 loss against former champions Tajikistan in their opener, conceded the goal in the very first minute when striker David Bruce did the job, much to the jubilation of the home crowd.
This was the second win for Kyrgyzstan in the qualifiers as they had defeated Macau 1-0 in their opener at the same venue.
Pakistan, who had fielded home-grown striker Mohammad Mujahid in place of Denmark-based unfit Hasan Bashir, had to pay the price for conceding the early goal as the hosts did well to defend the thin lead till final whistle.
Pakistan, looking for an equaliser, created several opportunities, but they failed to beat Kyrgyzstan’s keeper Matiash Pavel. The home gloveman smartly handled shots from Kaleemullah and Mohammad Adil.
Pakistan’s goalkeeper Yousuf Butt, who was again given the chance in place of skipper Jaffar Khan, also saved Pakistan from a few blows as he bravely negotiated the fiery attempts from Sharipov and David Bruce.
Pakistan’s midfield, though, did not look impressive as Zavisa Milosavljevic had to field Faisal Iqbal in place of Yasir Afridi in the start of the second half and then sent Mohammad Naveed for England-based Adnan Ahmad in the 80th minute.
Saddam Hussain, who had also been sent in the dying moments against Tajikistan, was again fielded in place of Mujahid in the 79th minute but no change worked.
The ouster from the tournament raises questions about the future of Pakistan’s Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavlejvic, who has been serving since November 5, 2011, when he was brought in place of local coach Tariq Lutfi to train the team that featured in the SAFF Cup in India the very next month.
The below-par showing from the Greenshirts, having the support of five foreign-based players, must make it clear to the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) that they cannot raise a strong side even with foreign coaches, if they do not improve their domestic structure, which has been unable to produce quality players.
Pakistan will now be going for a consolation win when they lock horns on Thursday (tomorrow) with Macau who have also lost both their matches.
Meanwhile, in the other game of the day, Tajikistan consolidated their chances of qualifying for the next year’s tournament proper when they crushed Macau 3-0. This took them to six points with plus 4 goal-average.
All the three goals came in the second half. Midfielder Ismoilov Jamshed struck in the 56th minute and injury time and Ergashev Jahongir scored in the 82nd minute.
Tajikistan will face Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, which will decide the group winners.
Myanmar, Palestine and Afghanistan have already qualified for the next year’s finals to be held in the Maldives.
Maldives have also been given direct entry into the tournament as the hosts.
Group E slots carrying Philippines, Cambodia, Turkmenistan and Brunei Darussalam will begin from Friday in Manila.
On the last matchday (21 March):
- Tajikistan will qualify if they do not lose to Kyrgyzstan.
- Kyrgyzstan will qualify if they do not lose to Tajikistan.