Super-sub goalie delivers title
Goalkeeper Mehedi Hasan came off the bench to stop three shots from the spot as Bangladesh beat Pakistan 3-2 in tiebreakers in the final to regain the title of the SAFF U-15 Championship at the ANFA Complex ground in Kathmandu yesterday.
The youngster, who had also saved two spot kicks in the tiebreaker of their semifinal against India while deputising for suspended first-choice goalkeeper Mitul Marma, showed nerves of steel and excellent guesswork to almost singlehandedly win the title for the boys in red and green.
He dove to his left to deny Pakistan from taking the lead after Bangladesh's Rajon Hawlader had blasted the opening shot over the bar. Then he dove to his right to stop Pakistan's second shot, helping his side take the lead following Tawhidul Islam Hridoy's successful conversion.
While both sides converted their next two spot kicks, Bangladesh's Rabiul Alam missed the fifth shot, hitting it straight at the Pakistani goalkeeper, giving the opposition a chance to take it to sudden death. But Mehedi, who was only brought on by coach Anwar Parvez during stoppage time of the second half, ensured that the victory belonged to Bangladesh by thwarting Pakistan's fifth spot-kick with his feet.
This drama and excitement followed a rather drab 90 minutes of football between the two evenly matched sides, both of whom had remained unbeaten during the campaign. Bangladesh had more possession and showed more penetration in their attacks, in fairness, there was little goalmouth action to decide the tie in regulation time.
The two goals that were scored during the 90 minutes were more due to defensive mistakes than from any attacking threats posed by the forwards. Bangladesh were the first to take the lead though as left-back Helal Ahmed's floating corner kick was headed in by Pakistan defender Haseeb Ahmed.
The boys in red and green hardly looked uncomfortable defending the lead until seven minutes after restart Helal needlessly brought down a Pakistan forward inside the box by mounting his back in an attempt to clear the danger.
Mohib Ullah converted the penalty, beating Mitul to his left as Pakistan wrestled back the initiative from Bangladesh. And that was how it finished in normal time before a clever move from the Bangladesh coach and heroics from Mehedi ensured Bangladesh regained the title which they had won for the first time at home in 2015.
It will not only be the championship trophy that Bangladesh will be bringing home today, but they will also bring the fair play award as well as the top-scorer award, which was won by striker Nihat Jaman Ucchash, thanks to his four goals against Maldives in the opening match.