At Euro 2004, Italy were in a similar position to which Pakistan are at the SAFF Championship ahead of their final group game.
Italy needed a win in their final match against Ireland and hope the other game between Sweden and Denmark didn’t end in a draw.
Italy won 4-0 but the Scandinavian rivals played out a 2-2 draw. Italy crashed out amidst the furore that the other game was fixed; a stitch-up or ‘il biscotto’ in Italian.
Fast forward nine years and Pakistan go into their final Group ‘A’ game against Bangladesh at the SAFF Championships in Nepal on Thursday, knowing their fate isn’t in their hands.
Like Italy, Pakistan know they will progress to the semi-finals only if they win and the other group game between India and Nepal produces a winner.
Following their 1-1 draw with Nepal on Tuesday, Pakistan’s best chance to qualify is that India beat Nepal 1-0 and they win 3-0 against Bangladesh.
Final standings at the SAFF Championship are determined by taking into account the head-to-head record first before counting the goal difference.
However, the threat of India and Nepal doing a biscotto on Pakistan looms.
After the match against Pakistan, Nepal coach Jack Stefanowski admitted that the final outcome of the group would come down to goal-difference.
“We have a good position, and it may come down to goal difference,” Stefanowski said after the match left them top of the standings, ahead of India on goal difference.
“I haven’t thought much of the game against India but we always play to win.”
Nepal conducted a light training session on Wednesday in perhaps an indication that they aren’t that concerned about the India clash.
Indian coach Wim Koevermans too was quite optimistic of their chances of progressing following their 1-1 draw against Bangladesh which left them on four points.
After two unconvincing displays in their first two games, the defending champions have been under fire for not overwhelming their opponents.
And after admitting that it’s the “results that matter”, Koevermans might as well play it safe rather than risk his side’s chances of qualification against Nepal.
“At international level what matters are the results,” the Dutchman said after the Bangladesh game.
“In the past, we have played some good football and yet haven’t got the result. Nobody remembers how you play as long as the result is achieved”
Pakistan’s ace defender Zesh Rehman, however, isn’t too fazed by the prospect of India and Nepal playing below par in the other game.
“I think Nepal will play to win because the fanatical atmosphere created by the fans filters through to the players and the emotions will make them want to attack,” Zesh, Pakistan’s standout performer in the heart of their defence against Nepal, told this reporter on Wednesday.
“Anything, though, is possible in football.”
The last time Pakistan needed to beat Bangladesh by a three-goal margin was in July 2011.
Then, Pakistan were 3-0 down from the first-leg in Dhaka of the 2014 World Cup qualifier between the Asian rivals.
The monumental comeback never happened, and Pakistan exited the first round of the Asian qualifiers after a goalless draw in Lahore.
Zesh was a part of the Pakistan team for the first-leg but he didn’t feature in the second-leg for personal reasons.
A 3-0 win against Bangladesh now will exorcise the demons of that defeat two years ago.
“We have to take positives from the first two games [including the defeat to India] and push for victory against Bangladesh,” Zesh said.
“Against Nepal we showed excellent spirit and togetherness and stuck to the game-plan. Unfortunately we needed to hang on for a few more minutes but that’s football.
“The confidence and morale in the camp is brilliant and everyone is giving their all for the green shirt and we’ve shown there is great potential for Pakistan to become a real force in South Asia.”
Tariq Lutfi, who was Pakistan’s coach during the World Cup qualifiers two years ago, believes Pakistan have shown good performances but their chances of qualification remain slim.
“Pakistan have played well during the course of the tournament,” Lutfi said on Wednesday.
“The national team’s chances of progressing aren’t too great but who knows they produce a miracle and go through.”