Pakistan achieved a rare football title as the country’s young guns downed archrivals India 2-1 in the final of the under-16 South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Mohammad Zeeshan and Mansoor Khan were the heroes for Pakistan as the team remained undefeated in the tournament.
Pakistan, who defeated India 1-0 in the group stage of the event, adopted an aggressive approach in the final as well as promised by their coach Sajjad Mehmood.
The team, suffering from the absence of key striker Mohammad Bilal and left-back Mohammad Rashid due to suspension, did not show much signs of nervousness and did not allow India to fight back.
The strategy paid off when Zeeshan struck a superb goal in the 23rd minute to put Pakistan 1-0 ahead.
However, after a series of unsuccessful attempts, India levelled, scoring just before the half-time break. After the break, both teams vied for possession but it was Pakistan who earned the lead after Khan scored in the 52nd minute after a Zainul Abedin pass.
India were in search of the leveller again but Pakistan ensured their lead to earn the Saff Championship title. During the course, Pakistan received two yellow cards with Zeeshan and goal-keeper Usman Khan being cautioned.
Mehmood rated the victory as a huge achievement for the country.
“It’s a big win and very good news for the country’s football,” Mehmood told The Express Tribune from Kathmandu.
“All the credit goes to the young boys who played really well and executed the game plan to perfection.
“We wanted to attack right from the start and we managed to do it. To beat India twice in the same competition is a fantastic achievement.”
Bright future ahead
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s senior team coach Tariq Lutfi termed the triumph as a huge breakthrough.
“It is a big boost,” said Lutfi. “The victory has proved that we have a bright future in football and a solid back-up is in the making in the form of these youngsters.”
Lutfi also credited the Pakistan Football Federation’s youth development programme for the win in Nepal.
“It’s a result of over five years of hard work in the programme. I always say that our youngsters are not less than colts from Brazil or Argentina and just need proper guidance and support.”
Lutfi, who has stressed on the need for international exposure for Pakistan players at all levels, said the youngsters needed to remain focused instead of getting complacent after the victory.
“The win is just a launching pad towards further success and the players must feel that their responsibility has increased after the victory,” added Lutfi.
Nepal beat Bangladesh
Nepal football team clinched the third place at the under-16 Saff Championship after beating Bangladesh 2-1 in the playoff match in Kathmandu. The hosts were defeated by India on penalties while Bangladesh were outclassed 2-0 by Pakistan in their respective semi-finals.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2011.