KARACHI: Pakistan experienced a heavy blow when they went 0-1 down against Tajikistan in their Group B opener of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup Qualifiers at the Dolen Omerzakov Stadium in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Sunday.
Tajikistan’s skipper Khurshed Makhmadov landed the winner in the 89th minute when he capitalised on a cross from the left wing. “We played really well and everything was going fine but unfortunately we conceded a goal in the dying moments,” Pakistan assistant coach Shehzad Anwar told ‘The News’ from Bishkek.
“The boys played according to the plan but luck did not favour us,” said Shehzad, an AFC License-A coach.
“Both sides created several chances. Tajikistan managed four shots while we managed three,” Shehzad said.
Pakistan opted to play without their skipper Jaffar Khan as Zavisa Milosavljevic preferred Denmark-based gloveman Yousuf Butt.
Shehzad said that Jaffar had developed a minor groin injury during practice and that was why he was given rest.
But sources said that Jaffar did not have any such problem which could have forced him to skip the key game. However, Yousuf Butt justified his selection by saving plenty of Tajik chances throughout the game and was declared Man of the Match in the end by match officials.
Other foreign-based players, Adnan Ahmed, Mohammad Ali, Hasan Bashir and Yaqoob Butt, were also part of the playing XI.
Hasan was replaced by Naveed Ahmed in the 77th minute, Saeed Ahmed was fielded in place of Adnan in the 85th minute while Muhammad Mujahid replaced Mohammad Ali in the third minute of the injury time.
The Greenshirts will now have to win both their remaining matches with high margin, against hosts Kyrgyzstan and Macau on March 19 and 21, respectively. The match was attended by nearly 200 Pakistani students living in Bishkek as they cheered the Pak Shaheens on.
Former Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi said that Pakistan had fallen in great difficulty after the loss. “I think Pakistan are in deep trouble and it will be difficult for them to win their remaining two matches and end the round with six points and plus 6 goal-average,” Lutfi told this correspondent.
Meanwhile, in the other clash of the group at the same venue, Kyrgyzstan notched a 1-0 victory against Macau in front of a capacity crowd of nearly 6000.
David Bruce Tettch struck the winner on the stroke of half time.
In the 20-nation contests, five group winners and two best second-placed sides are supposed to join Maldives in the final round to be held in Male next year.
Myanmar, Palestine and Afghanistan have already qualified for the main round, while Group E slots featuring Philippines, Turkmenistan, Cambodia and Brunei Daraussalam will start from March 23 in Manila.
India and Bangladesh are also in contention for the two spots up for grab for the best second-placed sides as both outfits have finished as runners-up in their pools with six points each. India have goal-average of plus 4 and Bangladesh plus 5.