Watching the Pakistan Football Team can be like waiting for a bus at times, for long nothing comes and when it does eventually come, it comes it’s in 2s and 3s. Having played just one international match during the entire 2012 calendar year, the team got four in space of this month, both double headers against Nepal and Maldives.
Credit to the PFF for arranging matches ahead of the vital AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, but after paying the coach’s one year salary for just taking charge against Singapore, they looked to justify their hefty spending with some much needed action this time around.
However, there are more preparations to be done if Pakistan are to qualify. The PFF ignored the importance of International friendlies in the first half of 2012, but once they came to their senses and realized that the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers were around the corner, they started to make extra efforts.
Last October, Pakistan were set to play Palestine but the visitors had to withdraw due to technical difficulties, leaving the sole visit to Singapore, as the only game for Zavisa to test his senior players.
The hosts hammered them comprehensively, but recent games against South Asian opposition will help Pakistan prepare for the next month’s qualifiers and give the former FK Bor boss an idea as to which area needs most improvement.
Although performances in the friendlies were far from convincing, the Greenshirts managed to secure identical 1-0 wins against Nepal and earned a credible 1-1 draw in stoppage time against Maldives before being trounced 3-0 in their next outing.
Prior to these games there was mounting pressure on Zavisa to deliver or he could be on his way out; former coaches and players like Tariq Lutfi and Ali Nawaz Baloch began criticizing the Serb for failing to deliver, despite the fact that the National Team had only be given 1 match in 12 months.
The Media also played its part and circulated rumours that the PFF were keen to replace the Serbian trainer with the Bahrain’s Salman Sharida on free deal with the Bahrain Football Association. However, despite all the obstacles, it seems that all this has spurred Zavisa on to produce positive results and save his job for the time being.
Preparations were also far from ideal, as Zavisa’s squad was marred by various members withdrawing from the squad for different reasons such as injuries to KESC danger man Muhammad Rasool, Rizwan Asif of KRL, Zesh Rehman of Kitchee SC, Nabil Aslam of AC Horsens, while Zia us Salam of KRL had to withdraw for personal reasons, Amjad Iqbal from Bradford Park Avenue had a family bereavement and Adnan Ahmed had club commitments.
At this stage the team was looking very thin, especially when Zia, Rasool, Rizwan and Amjad had withdrawn from the final 22 leaving it to just 18. It was then left to 17 when Denmark based Mohammad Ali had to skip the games in order to complete his paperwork for the qualifiers. Zavisa went in to these games with just 4 outfield substitutions, a very thin squad considering the games were very tightly scheduled.
The side has come under criticism in these 4 games despite two wins and a draw, because the style of football played by the men in green (or lack of style). On a positive not Pakistan did score in 3 out of the 4 games having earlier gone without a single goal from open play in 6 matches with both Pakistan based and overseas based strikers getting on the score sheet.
Pakistan resorted to long ball football and tried to hit the opposition on counter attacks. That may have worked against Nepal, but against Maldives the hosts dominated and the visitors played very physical football. It seems Zavisa has stuck to his strengths and didn’t try anything ambitious as he knew the pressure on him was to deliver results and get a momentum ahead of the qualifiers. That has allowed him to retain his job until the qualifiers, where he can be a bit more adventurous with the return of his skilled stars.
The tactician also knows that the need of Adnan Ahmed and Amjad Iqbal in the midfield alongside Danish powerhouse Mohammad Ali and slick forward Hassan Bashir are must if he is to have a shot at qualifying for the finals of AFC Challenge Cup. He will also need his best PPFL players such as attacking winger Rizwan Asif in the side who last played in SAFF Cup 2011 and midfield dynamo Zia us Salam if Pakistan is to control the proceedings in the matches. Zavisa would also be hoping that the Chitral born hit man Muhammad Rasool is fit and available to off him options in the strikers department.
The last game against Maldives also saw various changes in the back line and showed the importance of ‘slow coach’ Shabir Khan. Nonetheless, the defence needs to improve in terms of solidarity and composition, which the addition of Zesh Rehman could do, although the ex-Fulham star has had a leaky record of 11 goals conceded in his last 4 appearances.
Another element PFF has to improve if it arranges such tight games is the care of its players, that means better flight schedules and not arriving in a country only 18hours before a game. The journey from Nepal to Maldives alone was 12 hours with long hours waiting at the airport and this is something which the Federation needs to understand, as this disturbs the players mind, routine and causes fatigue which isn’t helpful when you are playing 4 matches in 8 days.
Nonetheless, the PFF deserves credit for finally securing some friendlies and need to continue this trend with at least two more before the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers, so that they are not only well prepared, but can also improve upon their recently acquired ranking of 170.