ISLAMABAD: Syeda Mahpara Shahid Bukhari was the undisputed hero for Pakistan at the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship on Friday, as the goalkeeper saved more than six attempts at goal by Nepal at the Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad.
Pakistan lost the match, but Mahpara’s performance forced the opponents to settle for just two goals to Pakistan’s nought as she also saved a penalty-kick towards the end of the second half.
The 21-year-old believes that a stellar performance from her side was long overdue.
“I had to ensure I play my part,” Mahpara told The Express Tribune. “I’m glad I managed to save those goals and made my team proud. Before this, Nepal used to defeat us with a margin of eight to 12 goals.”
Mahpara, who started her career with Young Rising Stars FC and later signed up for national champions Balochistan United FC, said that her next aim is to ensure that she does not concede even a single goal to Bhutan in the last Group B match.
“I know our chances of going into the next round are next to nil as we’ve lost two matches, but we still have an opportunity to finish our campaign on a high.”
The Rawalpindi-based footballer recalled that she never dreamed of being a goalkeeper, but now she cannot see herself in any other role on the field.
“Back in 2007, I used to play as a defender for Young Rising Stars FC,” said Mahpara. “But then in 2008, when our goalkeeper at the club left and I stopped my teammate Malika Noor’s goal-scoring attempts, the coach said that I should switch to goalkeeping. I haven’t looked back since then.”
Mahpara explained that a goalkeeper’s job is not only physically demanding but mentally challenging as well, since the responsibility of saving the game is inadvertently shifted on that one player’s shoulders.
“We lost, but after the match, no one from the team feels like a loser. And they are very supportive of me, so I’m flying high,” said an elated Mahpara.
Recognition from the opposition
Nepal coach Darshan Bhakta Raj Lawat praised Mahpara for saving Pakistan from suffering a big defeat.
“Pakistan have certainly improved,” said Lawat. “We’re all collectively impressed with Mahpara. She single-handedly prevented a big win for us.
“My players kept attacking and kept putting the ball on target, but they failed to dodge Mahpara. She was better than my players.”
Meanwhile, in the first Group B match on Friday, Sri Lanka defeated Bhutan 3-0. Nepal and Sri Lanka are leading Group B with two wins each.
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