Disappointing, yet again

By Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

Pakistan once again failed to qualify for the 2014 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup when they lost both their opening matches of the qualifiers in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek.  Pakistan lost to former champions Tajikistan and hosts Kyrgyzstan with an identical margin of one goal.  They were scheduled to face Macau on March 21 in their last, inconsequential match.

The result was disappointing in the sense that the team was provided with all the training facilities. During the past few months the team toured Singapore, Nepal, Maldives and Dubai for preparation. Moreover, five good foreign-based players, Hasan Bashir, Mohammad Ali, Adnan Ahmad, Yousuf Butt and Yaqoob Butt, were also at the disposal of the team management.

Keeping in view these things, it was expected that the Greenshirts would make it to the tournament proper, which is to be hosted by the Maldives next year. But their exit took everyone by surprise.

Pakistan should have at least defeated the low-ranked Kyrgyzstan. The frontline and midfield once again failed to click and the coach faced problems in finding a good combination.

Quite surprisingly, Zavisa Milosavljevic threw a lot of weight behind Denmark-based gloveman Yousuf Butt by giving him chance in both the initial matches in spite of the fact that the country’s experienced goalie Jaffar Khan was not only in good form but was also the skipper.

It’s always strange to leave out the captain in vital encounters.  After Pakistan lost to Tajikistan in their first game on March 17, a team official said that Jaffar had been rested due to a minor groin injury, but that wasn’t the case.

After the tours to Nepal and Maldives, Zavisa had said that Jaffar would be his first choice for the qualifiers. The Serbian at that time was not satisfied with the performance of Yousuf Butt and Saqib Hanif under the cage. “Jaffar will be our top priority for the qualifiers while Yousuf and Saqib are of the same level and will serve as cover,” Zavisa had said.

In the absence of Jaffar, defender Samar Ishaq acted as skipper. One can predict after the results that Zavisa is going to be removed as according to the PFF he has failed to live up to the expectations.

Zavisa has been working as Pakistan coach since November 5, 2011. He not only failed to lead Pakistan’s senior team to the semi-finals of the SAFF Cup in New Delhi in December 2011, but his Under-22 team also faced a humiliating exit from the qualifiers of the Asian Cup held in Saudi Arabia in June-July last year.

Like the seniors, the juniors were also given ample international exposure with tours to Thailand, Palestine and Bahrain before the Riyadh’s qualifiers.

The PFF must be very much disappointed following their team’s miserable exit from the AFC Challenge Cup as the authorities had focused on the event in particular and had invested a lot on the preparation.

The authorities want to see the national team play in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But the output of the elite lot in the qualifiers could compel them to set a distant target.  With performances like these there seems to be no likelihood of Pakistan becoming one of the prominent outfits of Asia in the next decade.

How can a team that is not even capable of winning the SAFF Cup be expected to qualify for the World Cup?

But the PFF cannot blame only the foreign coach for all the disaster.  What could a foreign coach do when the boys don’t have the capacity to improve? The results in the qualifiers show that Pakistan has a long way to go before expecting to see themselves in the World Cup. It demands consistency in policies. The top officials of the PFF will have to put their heads together and hold extensive debates with the experts in order to find out where the ailment lies and how it could be removed.

Unlike hockey and other sports, progress in football needs huge investment as it is the most demanding game of the world.

But it is the king of the sports and will bring everything when our side becomes able to extend tough fight to the major oppositions.

The PFF should be clear in their approach. They have to decide whether they are to proceed with foreign coaches and foreign-based stuff or with the home-grown coaches and boys.

If they are to go for both, then they will have to devise a strategy under which both these conflicting troops can be properly trained and groomed.

Moreover, the PFF will also have to decide whether they are to concentrate on young blood or on old faces.

The international football is very fast. It needs players with a lot of energy and speed. But still one could see so many players in the national team who don’t deserve a place because of their age.

Four of the five foreign-based players had joined the team at the eleventh hour. And in Bishkek it was evident that the coach was not satisfied with the combination. If it was feared that their late joining could put the team in trouble then why were they called?

If the PFF now fires Zavisa, it must go for making a long-term deal, at least for five years, with any other foreign coach.

If Salman Ahmad Sharida of Bahrain is interested he should be immediately brought because he knows how to build the team. Being Asian and black-skinned, Sharida is more appropriate for coaching in our country.

Bahrain’s football chief is contesting the AFC elections. If he succeeds hiring Sharida will be an easier job for Pakistan.

But the contract should be for at least five years so that the coach could get enough time to prepare a fighting lot.

Going for a local coach would again be wastage of time as no one in the past has been able to prove effective.

The PFF will have to do extra effort to make its Premier League at least semi-professional as advised by the world football governing body (FIFA).

Instead of thinking about holding inter-city league, the PFF should focus on its elite league. The current league is not able to produce quality stuff.

It is the right time to make positive decisions. If the authorities did not wake up then after a few years it would become much more difficult for Pakistan to win even at the South Asian level.