Pakistan did what they had to, but India didn’t do much of a favour to their arch-rivals.
The national football team crashed out of the SAFF Championship on Thursday despite a 2-1 victory against Bangladesh but they went out because defending champions India lost 2-1 to Nepal in the other Group ‘A’ match.
Nepal finished top of the group with seven points with India and Pakistan finishing level on four points with the defending champions edging through to the semi-finals with a better head-to-head record.
India had beaten Pakistan 1-0 in their Group ‘A’ opener on Sunday.
With both final fixtures of the group starting simultaneously in Kathmandu, Pakistan went into the game knowing that an Indian victory would boost their chances of reaching the last-four if they finished ahead of the hosts on goal-difference.
Pakistan played out a 1-1 draw with Nepal on Tuesday and they needed a victory against Bangladesh.
They did manage to get all three points against Bangladesh after goals by Samar Ishaq and Kaleemullah but their victory was rendered insufficient after the Indians fell to Nepal.
Needing a victory, Pakistan could’ve made the worst possible start when goalkeeper Saqib Hanif, in for Yousuf Butt, stopped a shot from point-blank in the very first minute at the Halchowk Stadium as Bangladesh started strongly.
Pakistan’s first real opportunity came near the half-hour mark when Hassan Bashir saw his volley hit the post and go out.
But barely three minutes later, Bangladesh took the lead when Saqib was caught off his line by a Mohamed Hasan Ameli header following a quick throw-in.
Pakistan, however, leveled matters three minutes later when Samar scored from Adnan Ahmed’s corner and his header gave the Bangladesh goalkeeper no chance.
At half-time, the other game between India and Nepal was goalless meaning regardless of a victory for Bangladesh or Pakistan, India and Nepal were going through.
Like in the first-half, Bangladesh started the second period strongly and had a couple of half-chances to take the lead, if not for Saqib’s heroics between the posts.
Pakistan started getting back into the game by the hour mark when Hassan saw his header saved by Bangladesh custodian Mamun Khan.
Ten minutes later, though, news started filtering that Nepal had taken the lead against India at the Dasarath Rangashala Stadium.
Anil Gurung was the scorer when he converted a rebound after a shot from Bikram Lama came off the cross-bar.
The Nepal goal meant Bangladesh were within an outside chance of a semi-final spot if they managed to win against Pakistan.
However, it was Pakistan who upped the ante with Kaleemullah, Zia-us-Salam and Mohammad Riaz going close to scoring.
Nepal scored their second goal in the 80th when Jumanu Rai finished off a quick counter-attack and virtually sealed Pakistan’s fate.
India could have gone out if Bangladesh had managed to find the winner but instead it was Pakistan who scored in the second minute of stoppage time when Kaleemullah tapped in after getting onto a through ball by Riaz.
But that time, India had pulled a goal back of their own, Robin Singh denying Nepal what would’ve been a flattering 2-0 victory.
At the final whistle at the Halchowk Stadium, and having received the news of Nepal’s victory, Pakistan players cut a distraught image.
But they will exit the tournament knowing that they did the best they could. Ultimately, it was fate that saw them go out of South Asia’s premier football competition.
With assistant coach Shahzad Anwar performing admirably in his first assignment in-charge of the national team and with Bahraini head coach Mohammad Al Shamlan taking over the national team, the future — at least for now — seems bright.