Pakistan faced another knock-out in the first round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup joint qualifiers when they lost both their legs against Cambodia who showed great expertise in beating the Green-shirts who tasted their 28th defeat in the history of qualifiers.
Since making their debut in the World Cup qualifiers in 1990, Pakistan have played only four draw matches which means the team has maintained its winless run.
After losing the first leg 0-2 against a well-prepared Cambodia on June 6 at the latter’s backyard it was expected that Pakistan, under the leadership of former Fulham defender Zeeshan Rehman, will recover in the home leg in Doha. But it did not happen. After taking lead in the first half, the Green-shirts leaked two goals in the second.
It was a huge disappointment. In Cambodia, Pakistan conceded both the goals after 80 minutes, due to two major defence blunders.
Although nothing ideal was expected from Pakistan in the qualifiers, we had hoped that with so many overseas players they would do something. The players who are based abroad had been in practice in their respective countries.
This shows that unless they play together for an ample period of time they will not be able to build the understanding that is needed for recording victories.
Out of the 19 players in the camp at Bahrain, only eight were home-based. Most of the key players had been in the control of Ashfaq Hussain-led Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) which held a camp in Islamabad despite knowing that they could not field the team in the qualifiers not being recognised by FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Had it released the key players, including Mansoor Khan, Saddam Hussain, Naved, Saadullah and Saqib Hanif, Pakistan’s winning chances would have been higher.
Because of the conflict back home, Pakistan’s preparation for the event was not ideal. Hardly two and a half week of training was held in Bahrain by the FIFA-recognised PFF.
Credit must be given to FIFA-recognised PFF because it at least fielded the team in the qualifiers.
In March because of the same dispute, Pakistan had failed to feature in the Olympic qualifiers. When Pakistan were preparing in Bahrain under the Brazilian coach Jose Nogueira, Ashfaq-led PFF issued a warning to both players and officials of that camp, saying that strict action would be taken against them. The Ashfaq-led PFF should keep in mind that its battle was with the FIFA-recognised PFF and not with the players or the officials who hoisted Pakistan’s flag on foreign soil in the qualifiers.
If it wants to take action, it should do so against the FIFA-recognised PFF which fielded the team in the qualifiers.
If it says that FIFA-recognised PFF committed contempt of court, it should go to court. The players and the officials did not make any mistake. They did not take part in any rebel event but in World Cup Qualifiers under FIFA.
Those players who represented Pakistan in qualifiers should not face any action.
Their jobs should not suffer, their families should not suffer and their careers should not face any hitch.
And for how long will this politics continue to damage the country’s football? It has created a sort of enmity among players and officials. They cannot tolerate one another. And this thing may prove fatal in future even after settling of the dispute.
A FIFA delegation talked to all parties concerned in Lahore last month and a final decision will come soon. Hopefully it will end the years-long conflict that has prevented Pakistan from featuring in several international events, of both men and women.
When the issue gets resolved, Pakistan will have to be ready for the 13th South Asian Games which will be hosted by Nepal in Kathmandu and Pokhara from December 1-10. It is expected that by October, FIFA’s decision about Pakistan’s issue will come and then a camp can be held for the Nepal event. It is the responsibility of the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) to send entries for South Asian Games.
There was one positive development, however. Some highly talented foreign-based players, including Samir Nabi and his brother Rahis Nabi of England, and Tabish Hussein of England, are being seen as the finds of the event.
Professional player Adel Nabi, who is the elder brother of Sahir and Rahis, can also be convinced in future to play for Pakistan.
It is not a bad thing if we keep our foreign players. It will make Pakistan team stronger. The presence of foreign-based players will also bring variety of class to the national unit.