Cloud hangs over Pakistan’s participation in 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers [Express Tribune]

Cloud hangs over Pakistan’s participation in 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifiers [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

KARACHI: The Fifa-backed Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) President Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat may be a spiritual guide in his home-town of Jhang, but he certainly does not understand the spirit of football despite being at the helm of affairs for more than 15 years now, as it is still unclear whether the country will compete at the Fifa 2022 World Cup qualifiers or not.

Pakistan will be up against Cambodia on June 6 and June 11 at the home-and-away basis qualifying round but so far the confusion continues about the possible camp or even the participation in the Fifa World Cup 2022 and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2023 preliminary joint qualification round.

The draws were taken out on April 17 in Kuala Lumpur for the 12 lowest ranked teams in the continent.

While it is no surprise that Pakistan is among them, it is definitely a reflection of bad run by the country when one looks at the record that Fifa’s website provides in a preview for the qualifiers, as it adds, “Pakistan boast the worst historic record of all 12 participating teams with zero wins from their 30 matches stretching back to the Italy 1990 campaign. They did, however, secure one of their four draws in 2015 against a Yemen side that subsequently qualified for the AFC Asian Cup.”

According to the Hayat’s faction, their official Fahad Khan did not admit or deny whether Pakistan would play the qualifiers or not, however, they added that it is up to the rival faction to decide.

The PFF has failed to give a straight answer to the query.

Whereas in the past Hayat has withdrawn Pakistan from different events including South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Women’s Championship and AFC U23 Championship which, was the Olympic 2020 qualifiers as well previously.

Meanwhile, Hayat’s opponents and the newly-elected President Syed Ashfaq hussain Shah-led administration has said to made efforts to collaborate with Hayat on the matter of preparing the team for the World Cup qualifiers. However, there has been no update either.

The new PFF body is not recognised by Fifa and AFC while the fresh elections had taken place in December after the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Although Fifa backs Hayat unconditionally so far, with two extensions given to him to sort the PFF matters out, first in 2015 and then in 2017, the resolution of the controversy is only delayed by Hayat.

Fifa had earlier decided that they will be sending a mission to Pakistan this month after the Fifa Members Association Committee meeting, however that too was delayed all the way to May 28 on the request of Hayat’s secretary Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi, Fifa spokesperson had said.

This only makes the road much more difficult for the players, who had to suffer while Hayat held the sport hostage in the last four years.

‘Unfair to the players’

Hayat’s black-listed player and Pakistan’s former captain Kaleemullah believes that the players of the national team must raise their voice now.

“It is now or never,” Kaleemullah told The Express Tribune. “This is the end, if we do not get to the qualifiers then there are no AFC or Fifa events for us for the next three to four years. There is still enough time. There are still almost 45 days for this. The players should speak up, and demand for this. I am already out of the team, for the reasons that Hayat knows, because I spoke the truth that PFF has done nothing for football. But if the players are not going to talk about it now, then this is the end of their careers in any case.”

The Pakistani players have had long and tiring journeys to make a career out of football in many ways, where they have departmental system in the country and no professional league, the money does not come easily and the coverage of the sport is overshadowed by cricket as well.

“These players have dedicated their lives to football, they didn’t go to school, left studies, fought tough situations, fought with their own families to play this beautiful sport, and this is how the federation is paying them back, by depriving them of another opportunity,” said Kaleemullah.

He is playing with Al-Najaf in the Iraqi league and he believes that hard work can pay off, but the PFF have not worked for player development either, with no proper stadiums in the country and worse, no professional league.

However, the 26-year-old believes that despite limited time now, Pakistan can still get their first win at the World Cup qualifiers if the foreign-based players can be called and the camp begins as soon as possible, despite Ramadan being a part of the schedule.

“We can beat Cambodia,” said Kaleemullah, as they have lost their last fixture to Bangladesh 1-0. “The Asian teams are weaker on away matches, and we can take advantage of it. But we must participate.

“However, the challenge will be the camp, because most of the national team players are not doing much as the Pakistan Premier League had concluded few months ago, they are not playing in the leagues abroad, so there is a lot of work, and Ramadan will also be there, so it is a tough task, but not an impossible one,” said Kaleemullah.

He recalled that the last World Cup Qualifiers in 2015 against Yemen was a golden opportunity for Pakistan, but the PFF have never prioritised the World Cup qualifiers like other countries do.

It was after the Yemen matches that the controversy of Hayat tailoring the PFF elections broke, and the country did not play any international matches from March 2015 till last year.

Pakistan are at 200 in the Fifa rankings.

Published in The Express Tribune, 20 April 2019