Five lessons from the India-Pakistan football series [DAWN]

Five lessons from the India-Pakistan football series [DAWN]

By Shahrukh Sohail – Published by DAWN

Kaleemullah and Saddam Hussain are quality players

With 17 goals in 16 games for FC Dordoi Bishkek in the Kyrgyzstan League there was never any doubt about Kaleemullah’s abilities, but the Pakistan skipper proved his worth with a sumptuous free-kick in the second game.

His constant dribbling and attacking threat singled him out as the main man for Pakistan upfront and with other strikers not really looking like the real deal; Kaleem will carry the goal-scoring burden in the Asian Games.

But Saddam deserves equal or more credit for two outstanding performances; the Karachi-born midfielder impressed fans and coaches alike with his passing skills, not to mention his constant running in the middle of the park.

And to put the icing on the cake, Saddam scored a brilliant goal in the latter stages of the second game and showed why he has been snapped up by Dordoi Bishkek on a one-year deal.

Muzammil has impressed under pressure

Wapda’s shot-stopper Muzammil Hussain was given the nod ahead of HBL’s Ahsanullah and KRL’s Saqib Hanif, and Hussain proved his worth with a string of consistently brilliant performances. Despite being rattled by Sunil Chhetri’s long-range shots and let down by his defense at times, Muzammil kept up his super performances.

Pakistan’s fragile defense is a major concern

The Shaheens may have won the last game but it didn’t hide the cracks that are appearing at the back. India, despite being unable to score, opened up the Pakistani defense with too much ease. Shamlan’s charges may have escaped here, but in the Asian Games or senior International football, where the level is higher, this defense will simply not be able to cope.

Pakistan edged India 2-0 in Bangalore to chalk out an overall win in the two-match football series held after nearly a decade. Listed here are some of the things that we learnt from the matches

Midfield problems could come back to haunt us

Coach Shamlan has been trying to introduce a passing style and moving away from the long-ball tactics used in earlier regimes. Kudos to the Bahraini for introducing the easy-on-the-eyes style, but Pakistan have yet to fully acclimatise.

Though in Saddam they have a good midfielder, the former KRL man has had to do things on his own and at times ran with the ball for great lengths — something which better teams could easily prevent.

What Pakistan needs to do is hold the ball well and keep possession as they build up to attacks. Moreover, this team lacks physical players to receive long balls that most players go for, which results in quick loss of possession.

Someone like ex-Manchester United trainee Adnan Ahmed, who is a pretty slick passer and keeps the tempo going, must be utilised for this purpose as Mehmood Khan and Bilawal-ur-Rehman haven’t demonstrated this ability.

Lastly, Pakistani midfielders need to form a consistent backbone for Kaleemullah to rely on as none of the players except Saddam can be seen making space in the attacking third. And subsequently, the skipper is left to do everything on his own.

Both India and Pakistan are set for an early exit from the Asian Games

Barring a miracle, it can be argued that given how these two sides performed in Bangalore, they will struggle to perform against better opposition, who will not only limit their possession but will take their chances when they come.

India, although they tried to pass the ball around, just did not have enough quality to oust a Pakistani side that looked incredibly woeful in defense at times.

Pakistan’s main problem on the other hand is that they can’t retain ball possession for more than two to three passes and that glaring deficiency could come back to haunt them in the Asian Games, where they play China and North Korea.

The writer is chief editor at

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 31, 2014