Withdrawal from SAFF U-20 Women’s Championship raises questions over PFF NC’s approach [Dawn]

Withdrawal from SAFF U-20 Women’s Championship raises questions over PFF NC’s approach [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: It was a huge exercise but the nationwide tryouts conducted by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee to form the women’s national team have come under the scanner after it withdrew entry from the SAFF Under-20 Women’s Championship.

The tournament concluded in Dhaka on Thursday with Bangladesh overwhelming Nepal 3-0 in the final; their victory coming after their senior team won the SAFF Women’s Championship last year.

Pakistan’s participation at the SAFF Women’s Championship in September saw the national team return to international action after an eight-year exile due to the turmoil in the PFF.

The FIFA-appointed PFF NC, after returning to office in July last year following the end of a 15-month ban by the global football body on Pakistan for third-party interference, had made revival of the national teams its priority.

Following the SAFF Women’s Championship, it held trials in five locations from October — from Karachi in the south to Hunza in the north — with national team coach Adeel Rizki looking to form a side for the future.

Several top players of the past were omitted when Pakistan went to Saudi Arabia to compete in the four-nations invitational tournament in Saudi Arabia last month.

Pakistan finished second and several players included in the squad were under the age of 20 which makes the PFF NC withdrawing the team from the South Asian event mind-boggling.

“They had taken entry but subsequently withdrawn,” SAFF secretary general Anwarul Haque Helal told Dawn on Wednesday.

PFF NC chairman Haroon Malik did not respond to Dawn when asked on Thursday why the entry had been withdrawn but a NC official, on the condition of anonymity, informed that the team was not sent because “we couldn’t make a team”.

And while the PFF NC officials did not give a definitive comment to Dawn till Friday, only head coach Adeel responded to queries regarding the withdrawal and whether the nationwide tryouts did not see players under the age of 20 come through.

“We had the national team in mind when we conducted the tryouts,” he said on Thursday, while admitting that the tryouts were open for players of all ages.

When asked if there wasn’t enough talent to form a junior team, Adeel responded: “Different criteria if we were to look to build an under-20 team.”

He added that Pakistan withdrawing entry from the SAFF U-20 Championship “did not fall under my scope” and “operations would be best taking that question.”

For all of the PFF NC’s extravagance in reviving national teams, showing their efforts on that front to deflect questions on the delay in starting the election process of the country’s football governing body, it raises questions over how it wasn’t able to field a team.

Perhaps it was wary of the backlash over the results when Pakistan last sent the women’s team to the age-group tournament. In 2018, when the SAFF tournament was for under-18s, Pakistan were thrashed 12-0 by Nepal and then hammered 17-0 by Bangladesh.

The very fact, though, remains that for a team that had not played for so long, results were less important than the exposure especially with the qualifiers for the AFC Under-20 Asian Cup set to be played next month.

Pakistan have been drawn alongside Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia in Group ‘G’, where play begins from March 8. With the team missing out on the SAFF event, withdrawal from the continental tournament looks likely on the cards.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2023