LAHORE - Palestine had to wait till last minute to break the stubborn resistance of Pakistan to win the friendly football match 2-0 here at the Punjab Stadium Sunday. It was the first international football match hosted by the country in over three years.

Despite the loss, the performance of lowly-ranked Pakistan football team was commendable who defied the Palestinian forwards till the 90th minute and indeed had gained a lot from the fixture. The visitors were unable to break down a resolute Pakistani side until the 90th minute, when Murad Ismail headed home to break Pakistani hearts. Abdullah Jabbar doubled the Palestinian’s lead two minutes later in front of a large turnout to kill off the game in the injury time when the home team went all the way in search of an equaliser.

The match, despite being a friendly, held a lot of significance for the hosts and this was perhaps best highlighted by the exploits of midfielder Saddam Hussain. “I flew in from Kyrgyzstan for the match on Saturday and despite the exhaustively long journey, I wanted to compete,” the midfielder, who plays for Kyrgyzstan FC Dordoi, said. “Playing the match just a few hours after such a long flight was tiring, but it was worth it. Playing against Palestine at home was something special.”

The trip meant that Saddam missed out on the Kyrgyzstan Super Cup final, which his side won 2-0, but the 21-year-old has no regrets. “It’s the emotion really and the connection we have with the Palestinians,” he said. “We lost but we lost after having gone shoulder to shoulder for a long time with a much more experienced side. They are the AFC Challenge Cup finalists and will be competing in Australia later this year, so we gained a lot of experience from playing them.”

More than 1,500 spectators arrived at the Punjab Stadium to watch the match and Hussain was quick to praise the supporters. “The crowd at the stadium was loud and cheered for both sides,” he said. “More importantly, our people realised that Pakistanis are capable of playing good football.”

As one of the more experienced members of the side, Saddam felt a certain sense of responsibility, especially considering the number of new faces in the side. “The coach, Shamlan Al-Mubarak, prepared for the match in just three days,” he said. “This result is a huge achievement. Getting the new boys to come in and instill confidence in them in such little time is a great achievement.”

However, Saddam admitted that he found it hard to get used to the change in climate. “In Kyrgyzstan, it was very cold,” he said. “We had snowfall there and it was tricky to adapt to Lahore’s warm weather. However, I knew this match was important so I was up for it.”

Meanwhile, assistant coach Hassan Baloch said the match was played in good spirit and felt the Palestinians, on the back of touring India, Thailand and Indonesia, were taken by surprise by their hosts. “Their coach’s over-the-top celebration for their opening goal was a compliment to us as it showed how hard they had to work for it,” he said.

Baloch said that not having captain Kaleemullah in the team was also detrimental for the side but added that the coach is adamant that the team will come before any single player, no matter how good he may be. “Kaleemullah was missed in the match, surely, but he tried to make decisions that were not his to make,” said Baloch. “He said that he would only play if the coach calls up M Adil. It’s the coach’s prerogative to pick a player he wants but Kaleemullah refused to come.”

In the post-match press conference, Shamlan said that Pakistan’s young side lost their concentration in the last five minutes and paid for it but added that the team will learn from their mistakes and improve in the future.

Palestinian coach Saeb TK Jeneya said after the match that his squad never felt unsafe in Pakistan. “Pakistan is like a second home to us, we never felt unsafe or had security concerns here,” he said. “We thank the Pakistan Football Federation for their hospitality.”