Pakistan returned to international football after a three-year hiatus with a bang as a 95th-minute winner saw them hand a 2-1 defeat to Nepal in the opening match of the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
Muhammad Ali headed Pakistan to a win in stoppage time after marksman Hassan Naweed Bashir's first-half opener was cancelled out by Bimal Gharti Magar. It was a happy return to international football for Pakistan, who played their last match against Yemen in February 2015.
Pakistan were forced to skip the previous edition of the SAFF Championship in Kerela due to internal problems as well as a court verdict on the Pakistan Football Federation. However, they took the first steps to a full-fledged international return last month in the Asian Games, where their Olympic team defeated their Nepalese counterparts 2-1 -- a scoreline that was replicated yesterday.
Pakistan may have come away with a win but the Himalayan boys drew attention for their fast-paced play, which kept Pakistan under tremendous pressure from the start. However, Pakistan took the lead against the run of play as Bashar converted a penalty in the 34th minute after defender Biraj Maharjan pushed down Muhammad Riaz inside the danger zone.
After resumption, Nepal exerted immense pressure as they pushed for the equaliser and finally levelled in the 82nd minute, Bimal expertly placing home a glancing header from substitute Niranjan Khadka.
However, Nepal failed to hold onto the point as Pakistan came out of their defensive shell and snatched the win following a nice move; building up the attack from the left that resulted in Muhammad Adil whipping in a cross for Saaduddin, who drifted away in chase before setting up Ali with a backwards header that Ali headed home easily from the edge of the six-yard box.
"This win is very important for Pakistan, not just for the players and the team but also for the federation and people of the country. We need to keep playing and the players need to show the same spirit in the next matches," said Pakistan coach Jose Antonio Nogueira.
Meanwhile, Nepal coach Bal Gopal Maharjan was left lamenting his players' mistakes.
“We conceded both goals due to a lack of focus from the defenders. However, there were some positives in the match as we played very well and created a few goals scoring chances in the second half. Sadly we could not cash in on those chances."