Pakistan laments dramatic ouster from AFC Challenge Cup

Pakistan should have got through the Taipei affair to book a berth in the final round, but it all remained a dream because of a lack of a strong combination

By Alam Zeb Safi

After a dramatic failure to get through the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying round held in Chinese Taipei from April 2-6, the Pakistan football team has ahead another crucial assignment in the name of South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship which would be jointly hosted by Sri Lanka and the Maldives from June 3 to 14.

In this 95,000 dollars competition, Pakistan have been placed in Group A with India, Maldives and Nepal. This is not an easy group for the Greenshirts, who have been demoralised by the unexpected 1-7 defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in the AFC Challenge Cup.

India would prove to be a tough opponent and so would the Nepalese as they have recently thrashed Pakistan in the first match of the two-match friendly series held at Pokhara Football Stadium in Nepal on March 25. Though Pakistan fought back with a 2-0 victory in the second encounter, the Nepalese proved their worth against a team which had prepared well.

Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) will have to be vigilant not only to form a balanced side, but should also look into its building process before the SAFF Championship. The selection committee should choose the boys with great care as any injudicious selection will greatly affect the team’s strength and so its performance like the one the Greenshirts showed in Chinese Taipei.

Pakistan should have got through the Taipei affair to book a berth in the final round, but it all remained a dream because of a lack of a strong combination.

For the AFC Challenge Cup, Shakir Lashari, a dashing striker from PIA, was made the scapegoat for his minor indiscipline when he had not reported for the camp which was held in Lahore for the preparations for the World Cup 2010 Qualifiers against the Asian Champions Iraq in October last year. Shakir is a type of forward, who, if properly supported by his fellow strikers, has the tendency to convert 90 per cent chances.

Moreover, the midfielder Abdul Aziz, who leads National Bank at the domestic level, and has enough international experience, was also not considered for the camp for the AFC Challenge Cup along with Yasir Afridi from Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), the cousin of Test cricketer Riaz Afridi, and the chap has marvellous potential.

On the other hand, the midfielder Zahid Hameed from WAPDA, who had not played a single match in the Premier league concluded early this year, got the selectors’ nod, and so did WAPDA’s veteran Tanveer Ahmad who was included in the side for the Chinese Taipei event in spite of his old age and contrary to his willingness to represent the side as he wanted to retire from international arena.

No doubt, Tanveer was a key defender, but the age-factor makes him a misfit for any further national duty. Moreover, the top scorer of the Premier League Arif Mehmood (with 21 goals) from WAPDA and his teammate Zulfiqar Shah, the second leading scorer of the Premier League with 18 goals to his credit and another talented midfielder from WAPDA Imran Niazi, were ignored.

Though the management cited lack of travelling documents as the main cause of the exclusion of the trio, but I would ask, whose fault was it? The management should have helped them to complete their documents well before the competition, and so that the services of the jewels could be safeguarded.

Well-built, sturdy German-born Atif Bashir also failed to find a place in the team for the AFC Challenge Cup because of problem in his identity card. These are really discouraging factors, and should be tackled diligently by the federation in future, especially ahead of the SAFF Championship in June.

The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) also takes more interest in foreign players, which does not seem reasonable. Because the foreign players would not be able to cope with the hard conditions here in the Asian zone. Moreover, who knows exactly what kind of football these British-based Pakistanis play in England.

These players are usually unable to take permission from their clubs in England as happened with the defender Zeeshan Rehman and Amjad Iqbal, who failed to arrive in Pakistan to accompany the side to Chinese Taipei for the AFC Challenge Cup despite their promises with the PFF.

I don’t object to the foreign footballers’ inclusion in the Pakistani team, but would rather say that only those foreign players should be given the chance, who could fulfill their commitments, and who could join the camp at the earliest as the British-based goalkeeper Iltaf Ahmad proved recently when he had joined the camp soon after its commencement for the AFC Challenge Cup.

Because, when a coach makes his mind that he will have the support of few good foreigners, and at the end the news comes that the said players will not represent the side because of their football activities in England, then this thing will certainly mar the whole planning of the coach. All these aspects should be kept in mind before finalising the team for the SAFF Championship which is yet to win by Pakistan.

As PFF plans to hold the camp for the SAFF Championship soon after the National Football Challenge Cup (NFCC) in Karachi from May 1-15, is also not a good idea. The federation should start the camp during the championship as this will help build the team in effective manner.

All the players will be here while representing their respective departments, and if the camp is held here from May 1, it will help the coach not only to supervise the camp, but will also be able to watch the competitions and so that any talented boy could also be picked, which could be inducted into the line up for the national duty.

In brief, I would say that the selection of the team for the SAFF Championship should be made by the selection committee after taking into consideration all the above aspects, and there should be no compromise on merit.