KARACHI: Pakistan failed to qualify for the semi-finals despite beating Bangladesh 2-1 in their last Group A match of the SAFF Cup football tournament at the Halchowk Stadium in Kathmandu on Thursday.
They were tied with arch-rivals India both on points and goal-average, but India, who were beaten by Nepal 2-1, made it to the last four by virtue of their 1-0 victory over Pakistan in the opening game on September 1.
Skipper Samar Ishaq and striker Kaleemullah struck for Pakistan while Hasan Ameli netted the goal for former champions Bangladesh, who ended at the rock bottom in their group with just a single point to their credit.
Bangladesh, playing under Dutch coaches, began the proceedings with aggressive approach and got onto the scoresheet in the 31st minute when Hasan Ameli managed a nice header.Sa
But Pakistan bounced back in the game in the 36th minute through a solid header from captain Samar, whose own goal in the match against India caused Pakistan’s ouster from the tournament.
Pakistan opted for gloveman Saqib Hanif in place of Danish Yousuf Butt, who had failed to impress against Nepal.
Bangladesh, who had held India in their previous match, inflicted a combined move and could have taken the lead in the 40th minute but Hasan Ameli angled it just right of the post on a corner kick from Sohel Rana.
At half time, the match was evenly poised at 1-1. Soon after the breather Saqib rescued Pakistan when he gathered a header from Toklis Ahmed.
In the 54th minute Saqib punched away a shot from Ameli on corner-kick.
When the injury time began a draw looked the most likely result but the Green-shirts did a fine job to score the winner in 90 plus two minutes through substitute Kaleemullah, who capitalised on a defence blunder after Mohammad Riaz’s lovely drive from the left was not properly cleared by the Bangladeshi defenders.
“It was a bold effort from Pakistan. But had the head coach Zavisa not been removed just before the tournament Pakistan could have qualified for the semi-finals,” former Pakistan coach Akhtar Mohiuddin told ‘The News’. “But I must say that Pakistan need to do a lot of hard work. Unless we change the playing style and work on keeping maximum possession of the ball we will not improve our football,” said Akhtar.
“For this purpose the PFF should launch a comprehensive, long-term programme at the grassroots level. Only then will Pakistan be able to produce good results in ten to 15 years,” Akhtar said.
In the other game, hosts Nepal stunned six-time champions India to end as group winners with seven points.
After a goalless first half, Nepal opened the scoring through Anil Gurung in the 69th minute on a rebound before Jumanu Rai doubled their lead in the 80th minute.
However, India reduced the deficit in the injury time through Syed Rahim Nabi.
Maldives and Afghanistan have already qualified for the semi-finals from Group B. The group toppers will be decided after their last league match on Friday (today).