Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
LAHORE: Pakistan’s hopes of qualifying for the final round of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U16 Championship were shattered as Iran defeated them 2-0 in the Group E qualifier match at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore yesterday.
Pakistan started the tie strongly with three attempts on goal in the first five minutes before Iran started taking control with a more aggressive approach.
Iran’s perseverance paid dividends when captain Nima Mokhtari Dehabneh scored in the 29th minute. The teams went into the interval at 1-0.
The second-half saw a rejuvenated Pakistan team create at least six goal-scoring opportunities but it failed to convert any. The inability to score led to frustration among the ranks of the home side and Iran took advantage of that, scoring again in the 80th minute to seal the 2-0 win.
“I’m unhappy with the way our team played,” PFF secretary Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told The Express Tribune.
“The problem lies with the coaches. How can our team play well against the UAE and not be consistent enough to put the same level of competition in the next match? We have talented players but we need better coaches. Now we will analyse why they didn’t perform as well as we were expecting from them.”
Pakistan coach Sajjad Mehmood said his players lacked the confidence needed to perform well at the international level.
“Our players need more confidence in their ability to perform,” he said. “We have previously lost to Iran with a margin of 10 to 15 goals. We have improved. The team is still growing.”
Iran coach Mostafa Ghanbarpour was satisfied with his side’s performance and believed they are now well placed to qualify for the finals.
“We will qualify for the next round,” he said. “My players did an excellent job. Pakistan fought hard, but the match was affected by the rain. It would’ve been a better match otherwise. We saw Pakistan’s previous matches, so we knew how to win.”
Iran play the UAE in their last match and Ghanbarpour said they are wary of their ‘speedy’ opponents. “The UAE players are very speedy but we will enter the field fully prepared to face them in our last match.”
In the other match of the day, the UAE crushed Sri Lanka 6-0.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2013.