Pakistan lose out to arch-rivals India as international break nears final whistle
There are times when international football tells the story of its nation and people. This has been the case for Pakistan in the past month.
After three years without official international football matches due to politics surrounding the nation's FA, as well as repeated terror attacks across the country, Pakistan's national team has brought some pride to their country and fans.
Under the Brazilian coach, Jose Antonio Noguiera, the Pakshaheens scored two victories against Nepal and Bhutan - albeit with a loss to Bangladesh - to qualify for the South Asian Football Federation Championship Cup semi-finals for the first time in 13 years.
There, however, they met their arch-rivals: India.
At the Bangabandhu Stadium in Dhaka on Wednesday, the two nations who share a complex and largely hostile history, played their first football match against each other since 2013. While Indian football is on a certain path of development, the Pakistani team for the tournament required some improvisation by coach Nogueira.
Thanks to the ability of Zesh Rehman, Hassan Bashir, Muhammad Ali and Captain Saddam Hussein they managed to get as far as the semis, but their skills weren't enough to make their first-ever final.
India's Manvir Singh stepped up to score a brace, and substitute Sumeet Passi added another for India in the 83rd minute - while Pakistan only got a consolation goal when Hassan Bashir scored in the 88th minute, concluding the match in a 3-1 victory for the Blue Pilgrims.
India will now focus on Satuday's big final against the Maldives, who outclassed Nepal 3-0 in the other semi-final.
Despite the loss, Pakistani football is a remarkable story. A team which hasn't played an international match for several years, suffering from incompetent national sports administration, with players who had just a few chances to meet and practice together have with great dedication and sacrifice brought huge honour to the football lovers of their nation - fans that rarely favour football and focus on cricket.
Middle East nations competing
Before club football returns to take over the football calendar for the next month, the international break has produced some serious action from the region's national teams.
With Amoory, Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil, the UAE started its real preparation for the biggest football event ever to take place in the country - the 2019 Asian Cup. But to say the least, it wasn't exactly inspiring. A 2-0 loss to Trindad & Tobago and a 3-0 victory against the minnows of Laos is not what a continental contender should be aspiring to.
At least there were goals for Mabkhout and Abdulrahman, but it seems as Alberto Zaccheroni has a lot of work to do on the coaching field ahead of next year's tournament. Follow this team closely, as temperatures are likely to rise in the Emirates regarding the national coach around the end of October.
The Qataris are on a roll. They haven't lost to a Middle Eastern opponent since December 2017, and in this break kept a clean sheet as they scored additional wins over the huge China and the tiny Palestine, 1-0 and 3-0 respectively.
Saudi Arabia managed a draw against Bolivia in Riyadh, and it seems that the national team's progress under Pizzi is continuing. Salem al-Dawsori and Yihia Shehri both scored for the Green Falcons.
The Srečko Katanec era opened with a nice run out against Kuwait. A 2-2 draw in Kuwait, with goals from Iraq's Mohand Ali and Ali Faez. Katanec has tried a few combinations of players and will now have to focus on stabilising his defence before next year's Asian Cup.
Take this stat: Lebanon hasn't loss an official match or a friendly since March 2016. In addition - they gained a precious victory against Jordan last Thursday, their first win over the Neshama in the past three decades. Like they always do, the Cedars are building hopes before a big tournament. Maybe this time it will be their time shine on the main stage.
More than a year without a victory for Palestine's national team. With no professional head coach, no hype around the team and despite reaching its best FIFA ranking this year, al-Fida'i have been on a poor run of form for a while. A positive draw with Kyrgyzstan was followed by a hammering loss to Qatar, and the team looks shaky ahead of a huge challenge in the winter as they play Jordan, Syria and Australia in the same Asian Cup group.
Jordan needs to be more careful during the forthcoming months. As they hold one of Asia's biggest talents, Mousa al-Taamari, they must be expected to perform better than losing to Lebanon and drawing with Oman. As a result, the Jordanian FA fired coach Jamal Abu Abed and has appointed former Belgium assistant manager Vital Borkelmans. Good luck to them.
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Since their terrific run to the 2018 World Cup qualifications Asian playoffs, the Syrians have lost their winning ways. Their slump continued against Uzbekistan (1-1) and Kyrgyzstan (1-2). But don't worry, the Qassion Eagles are still not an easy team to play. No matter where, no matter when.
Carlos Queiroz hasn't yet signed his new contract with the Iranian Federation, but he guided a very young Team Melli (average age 26.4 years) to a comfortable victory over Uzbekistan. The best team in Asia and its Portuguese coach will hope to put all their administrative problems aside to win the Asian Cup in the winter.
Egypt has begun the Javier Aguirre era in style - a 6-0 victory against the helpless Niger in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifications. Mohamed Salah scored a brace, assisted with another two and missed two penalties along the way.
Egypt's biggest ever win under Hector Cúper in three years of his leadership was 5-1. After just one game under Aguirre the Mexican, they have beaten that record with their first win since their historic victory against Congo in the World Cup qualifiers last year. Are the Pharaohs back for good?
Morocco won in style against Malawi in the AFCON qualifiers. Hakim Ziyech and En-Nesyri continued their good form from the World Cup. The Atlas’ Lions are coming, Africa, beware.
Time comes and goes, coaches arrive and leave, but some things will never change: Tunisia qualifying easily for the AFCON. A 2-0 victory over Swaziland opened up a three- point lead over Egypt in their group.
How Algeria is not tearing Africa apart with their star-laden squad is something that is beyond the explanation of many football experts. A 1-1 tie with Gambia, in a heated match with over-crowding is not a good sign for Mahrez and company. But the road is still open for them to qualify for Cameroon 2019.
Libya has a a very talented squad, despite the fact that the country's football infrastructure is one of the world's poorest. But the lack of insitutional support did not stop them from gaining an impressive draw against South Africa in Durban, and they are in top place to qualify for summer's AFCON tournament, now ahead of the Bafana Bafana and Nigeria in their group. Watch out for the new Cinderella of Africa.