In the end it was a combination of the driving monsoon deluge, a stop-start playing surface and a bit of luck that saw Bangladesh ease to an emphatic 3-0 win over rivals Pakistan in their 2014 World Cup pre-qualifier first leg at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday.
In Bangladesh’s most important game for some time, the rain that the rival coach Tariq Lutfi had been so dreading came to the fore as Pakistan struggled to cope in the alien conditions that at the same time proved so familiar to the Bangladeshis.
It took just 36 seconds for Bangladesh to take the lead; Zahid Hasan Emily rising between the Pakistan center-backs to glance a reverse cross from Monaem Khan Raju into the back of the net and it was a position from which they never looked back with wave after wave of attacks threatening to overwhelm the Pakistanis at numerous points during the game.
Emily’s early strike was just what the two-thousand strong crowd at the stadium needed and although the goal owed much to a poor effort from Pakistan goalkeeper Jaffar Khan, it in no way stopped the crowd egging on the home team to even greater heights.
With the Pakistanis struggling to stay on their feet in a pitch that was getting increasingly water-logged, Bangladesh used the long-ball to great effect, continually troubling the Pakistanis with direct balls hit behind the defence. Emily, playing as the lone striker, had the run of the Pakistani centre-backs all game and winger Zahid Hossain too proved a constant menace with his sharp movement and pace.
And it was Zahid who helped Bangladesh double the lead in the 22nd minute. A long ball from Mamunul was hit behind the Pakistani defence and where in normal circumstances it might have rolled into touch, the heavy pitch ensured it stopped nicely for Zahid. Yet, there was still plenty to do and Zahid did it brilliantly, shrugging off his markers and unleashing a shot from just outside the area which took a wicked deflection off a puddle of water to wrong-foot Jaffar yet again.
The crowd went into delirium and with captain and goalkeeper Jaffar looking shaky the Bangladeshis sensed that the game was there for the taking.
Attacks were becoming commonplace, and a goal looked a matter of formality but twice the Pakistan captain redeemed himself with superb saves. First, when Emily sent a powerful header his way and then just before the whistle when he pulled off a smart save to deny left-winger Shakil Ahmed who had the run of goal.
With Bangladesh threatening to take the game away, the half-time whistle proved an adequate respite for the beleaguered Pakistanis who looked completely lost and unprepared to face the conditions.
With the rain still pouring down on the badly sliced up pitch, the second half conditions played even more into Bangladesh’s hands and they duly added to their tally at the 56-minute mark.
With Pakistan pouring forward in search of a way back into the match, Mithun Chowdhury, who had come on as a substitute in place of the tiring Zahid Hossain, was set through by another long ball from the back and he showed great composure to draw two Pakistani defenders his way before chipping a ball into the path of center-back Rezaul who had come forward to support the attack.
The defender showed great composure to cut inside one man before rifling a left-footed effort into the back of the net.
With the goal he became the third Sheikh Jamal player to score on the evening and in the process ensured that the rest of the game would now be purely academic.
With both sides running low on fuel in the difficult conditions, Bangladesh eased off and tried to keep control of the match by dominating the midfield. Yet, they could have added a couple more to their tally but had to be satisfied with a three-goal lead going into the return leg at Lahore on July 3.
The result ensured that Bangladesh maintained their record of not having lost to their rivals at home since 1985 and in any international since 2005, and also gave coach Nikola Ilievski a winning start on debut.
Bangladesh: Biplob Bhattacharjee, Linkon, Nasir Hossain (Mamun Mia 75′), Ariful Islam, Rezaul Karim, Atiqur Rahman Meshu, Zahid Hossain (Mithun Chowdhury 51′), Monaem Khan Raju, Mamunul Islam, Shakil Ahmed (Abdul Baten Komol 85′), Zahid Hasan Emily.
Pakistan: Jaffar Khan, Faisal Iqbal, Samar Ishaq, Zeeshan Rahman, Qureshi Atif Bashir, Adnan Farooq, Muhammad Rasool (Muhammad Qasim 67′), Mehmood Arif (Khan Ahmed Akber 83′), Abbas Hussain and Kaleemullah (Muhammad Ikram 45′).
Goals: Zahid Hasan Emily (1′), Zahid Hossain (22′) & Rezaul (56′)
Yellow cards: Raju, Linkon (Bangladesh); Samar Ishaq, Zeeshan Rahman (Pakistan)
Referee: Abu Loum Mohammad Mousa (Jordan).
-With The Daily Star input