BANGLORE: Pakistan claimed their first bilateral football series in India after nine years as the national squad, led by 22-year-old Kaleemullah, defeated their archrivals 2-0 at the Bangalore Stadium on Wednesday.
The team’s historic performance was a bounce-back after losing the first match 1-0 against the hosts on Sunday.
For the captain, who scored the opening goal of the match in the 37th minute, the win was a dream finish.
“It doesn’t matter whether the series was big or small, this was like the World Cup for us,” Kaleem told The Express Tribune after the match. “Being the captain of the squad, I knew it’s going to be important to deliver the results against India, I had to take the responsibility.
“During the interval, I told the players that I don’t want to see their faces if we lose. I had to instil this aggression in the team. We had to set the example.
“In the end, it was a great moment to wave Pakistan’s flag in India. We were united as a team.”
Pakistan last played with India in 2005 in a three-match friendly series.
If I hadn’t scored, I would’ve quit: Kaleem
Kaleem said that head coach Mohamed Shamlan trusted the players even after the team’s defeat in the first match.
“I felt I hadn’t delivered my best in the opening match, so scoring on Indian soil was a must for me,” said the Chaman-based striker. “I thought if I didn’t score now, I should quit football, but Shamlan had told me he trusts my ability.”
India are ranked 150th in the world, while Pakistan are on the 164th spot.
Meanwhile, team manager Asghar Khan Anjum said that the biggest achievement for the Pakistan squad was to win hearts in India.
“This is the first time we’ve won a series in India with a new young team and made history,” said Anjum, who is also a former national player. “With this win, all of our hard work has paid off.
“While we won the series on goal average, we also won the hearts of the spectators here. The crowd cheered for us and the Indian media were also very positive.”
Pakistan Football Federation (PPF) Secretary Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi said that the team showed improvement and determination.
“We’re very happy with the result,” said Lodhi. “The best thing that I’ve noticed in the players was their willingness to fix their mistakes.
“There was something missing in this match too. Saddam missed a goal in the second half, but he made up for his mistake and doubled the lead a few minutes later.”
PFF rewards Rs5m to team
Lodhi added that PFF President Makhdoum Faisal Saleh Hayat has announced a reward of Rs5 million for the team.
“This is the importance of India-Pakistan series,” said Lodhi. “We want to encourage the team, so the PFF will reward them for winning a series on their neighbours’ soil.”
The friendly series was a practice ground for Pakistan and India ahead of the Asian Games next month.
The squad will fly out to Bahrain on Thursday for three more friendly matches.