By Alam Ze Safi,
Like in the past, Pakistan fell in the first round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers when they were held by Yemen to a goalless draw in their second leg in Manama on March 23.
In the first leg Yemen had beaten Pakistan 3-1 in Doha on March 12, thus qualifying for the second round with an aggregate score of 3-1.
The round was a replica of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers when after tasting 3-0 defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in the first leg in Dhaka, Pakistan were held by the Bengalis to a goalless draw in the second leg in Lahore in 2011 when Tariq Lutfi was Pakistan’s coach.
Unluckily Pakistan had been bracketed with the strongest side of the 12 lowest ranked outfits of Asia but still it was expected that the Greenshirts would be able to beat Yemen who comprised mostly young players and whose preparation was hampered by political unrest in their country. Because of the problems back at home they had opted to host Pakistan in Doha.
The Yemenis seemed superior in skill and speed but Pakistan looked a better side as they had some solid professional players, particularly in their frontline and defence.
It was the first time that Pakistan had got the assistance of their best foreign based players and because of this the expectations were high but it was sad that the team failed to live up to its billing.
In the first leg in Doha, Pakistan had looked a disjointed side and at no stage the boys could give an impression that they were playing for their country.
Most of the players played individual game and that was the main reason why Pakistan missed a handful of juicy chances.
Pakistan conceded all the three goals on set-pieces. Surprisingly, Pakistan were playing in that leg without their goalkeeping coach Zahid Taj who had gone to Bahrain to attend a coaching course.
Before proceeding to Doha for the first leg, it was announced that Pakistan would be led by former Fulham defender Zeeshan Rehman but the experienced player was not released by his Malaysian club Pahang FA because of their AFC Cup commitment.
Pahang FA could not be punished for not releasing Zesh for Pakistan duty because the qualifiers did not fall on FIFA days. But I see some error in FIFA’s rules as it were after all World Cup qualifiers and there should be some provisions in the statutes for the release of players from their clubs for their countries, like FIFA days outings.
It was expected that Pakistan would tame Yemen on their home soil in Lahore in the second leg on March 17, but luck once again did not favour Shamlan’s outfit as the tie was postponed and later shifted to Bahrain by FIFA following suicide attacks on churches in the Youhanabad area.
In Manama, Pakistan needed to beat Yemen 2-0 to progress but they failed to do so as they missed a number of chances.
Like always, finishing was poor. One wonders why such players as Kaleemullah and Hassan Bashir, who play in organised foreign leagues, cannot score goals.
Mansoor Khan once again failed to do justice with his talent. AC Horsens’ former defender Nabil Aslam, who played in the first leg, also did not perform the way he was expected to. He had to skip the second leg because of a knee injury.
Danish striker Mohammad Ali was a total failure as he not only missed an easy goal in the first leg in Doha but his fitness was also below the required standard.
The timing of joining the side of foreign-based players, including the three playing in Kyrgyzstan, put coach Shamlan under pressure. But we will have to cope up with this now as solid players of Pakistan have started entering into deals with foreign clubs. Pakistan faced problems in goalkeeping department as Muzammil Hussain made a few lapses in the cage which caused Pakistan’s huge loss in the first leg that almost diminished their chances to hit back.
It would have been much better had Shamlan picked inform striker Mohammad Rasool, who took K-Electric to their maiden Premier League title last season. Danish gloveman Yousuf Butt also deserved induction.
Initially, Shamlan did not want to include foreign-based players but later he changed his position. Quite surprisingly, World Cup qualifiers were not on the priority list of the coach and Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). They spent the resources on building the under-23 side which will feature in the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers.
PFF should have planned for the World Cup qualifiers. Had Pakistan senior team played on FIFA days consistently for the last two to three years it could have improved its rankings which would have helped it enter directly into the second round.
FIFA has given 300,000 dollars to every member association to prepare for the World Cup qualifiers. Through this amount solid preparation could have been made.
As the World Cup qualifiers are over for Pakistan, SAFF Cup, the biggest event of the region, is awaiting the senior team. It is expected to be hosted by India in New Delhi in June. If the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers of Group B are delayed till May as is expected and SAFF Cup is announced in June it could dent Pakistan’s preparation for the India event. Let’s see what happens.
Shamlan will not serve as Pakistan’s coach after the expiry of his two-year contract in July. And this will create problems for the PFF. “I love Pakistan. I have worked hard here for the last two years and will leave in July,” Shamlan told ‘The News on Sunday’ from his hometown in Bahrain.
“Although in my coaching Pakistan may not have achieved anything big, I am satisfied as there are so many positives I have given to Pakistan football,” he said.
“Under me Pakistan got its pool of qualified coaches inflated. I tried to ensure discipline in the team. I always kept good relations with my players and fought for them at every platform. I love Pakistan, its people and what I have done is enough. There are so many things Pakistan need to correct if they are to improve their football,” Shamlan added.
Asked what he would do if Bahrain Football Association (BFA) asked him to continue working as Pakistan’s coach, he said: “It is my personal matter and I have decided to leave in July.”
But Shamlan wants to give a good result to Pakistan in the SAFF Cup. “If it is held in June then I will love to see my team grab the title this time,” Shamlan said.
But the immediate gigantic task for Shamlan is the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers Group B. The slots were scheduled to be held in Lahore from March 23 to 31 but were postponed following the attacks on churches.
The AFC is yet to unveil its new dates and venue. Pakistan are preparing in Lahore for the challenge as they are to face strong Jordon, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.