By Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: With a game to spare, Pakistan are out.
Such dismal has been their performance at Al Ain’s Al Qattara Stadium in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during the Group ‘B’ qualifiers of the AFC U-23 Championship that after two games, they have no chance of advancing to the tournament finals next year.
The qualifiers were to be head-coach Mohammed Al Shamlan’s swansong. With the Bahraini nearing the end of his contract in July, he was hoping to go out on a high.
He will — and should — leave on a low after Pakistan were dumped out of the qualifiers for the AFC U-23 Championship following a 2-0 thrashing by Kuwait on Monday which came after their 5-0 drubbing by Jordan in their opener on Saturday.
Faisal Al-Azemi scored both goals in the opening 15 minutes as Kuwait, who were held to a goalless draw by Kyrgyzstan in their opening game, provisionally top of the group before Kyrgyzstan and Jordan were to play.
Regardless of the result of that match, Pakistan have no chance of finishing amongst the top two in the group and possibly advance to the tournament finals in Qatar.
And their last match against Kyrgyzstan should well and truly be Shamlan’s final game in-charge unless of course Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) pulls off another of its mindless ‘masterstrokes’ which have seen football in the country fall down to its lowest ebb.
Shamlan told Dawn in March he will not extend his contract with Pakistan, blaming the PFF for its “lack of vision”.
It prompted a swift response from PFF chief Faisal Saleh Hayat who took to Twitter to say that the PFF had already decided against opting to extend the former Bahrain international’s contract.
But recent reports suggest the PFF are looking at tying him up for the next five years.
The reason is quite simple: Shamlan’s dues are all afforded by the Bahrain Football Association (BFA). He costs the PFF nothing.
Already without competitive football for the next four years after their 3-1 aggregate loss to Yemen in the first round of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in March, the game in the country is left facing an uncertain future.
The change in the qualifying procedure by the AFC means that World Cup qualifying later on merges with the preliminaries of the 2019 Asian Cup.
The teams which have made it to the second round of the World Cup qualifying, which include Pakistan’s South Asian rivals India, Bangladesh, Maldives and even minnows Bhutan, now have a packed calendar till the next four years.
With all those teams involved in qualifying fixtures during international windows, Pakistan will be left feeding the scraps — a match here and a match there.
Meanwhile, PFF’s focus over the last month has been towards securing Faisal Saleh Hayat’s presidency in its elections on June 30.
Allegations of flouting with election rules have been made by the other candidate, Hayat’s former ally Syed Zahir Shah who has written to world’s football governing body FIFA over the matter.
And naturally in that entire fracas, the attention has shifted from the game and onto the boardroom.
Boardroom planning has been lacklustre too with PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi telling Dawn in December last year that their focus wasn’t on the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Lodhi did not respond to calls from Dawn on Monday.
Since Shamlan took over at the helm, he has been asked to focus on exclusively on the U-23 team — that’s what he says.
His selection policies, of focusing mainly on U-23 players, were questioned by Dawn in an interview in January in which he said he had a “far-sighted approach” to the game.
He did achieve a historic victory over arch-rivals India in a U-23 match last year but he’s had few little highs during his stint.
One of those highs is highlighted on the PFF’s Facebook page whose cover photo sees him standing with his players celebrating their victory over a third-string Afghanistan team in February.
He was hoping to go out on another high by taking the team to the AFC U-23 Championship which doubles up as qualifiers for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
As it stands, his and PFF’s “far-sighted” planning has seen Pakistan football facing a bleak future.
PFF president Hayat has the incredible talent to boast all day long about the fact that he secured eight FIFA Goal Projects for Pakistan during his 12 years as the country’s football chief.
The fact that remains is that only one of them is operational — the PFF House in Lahore where he and his team plot Pakistan’s footballing future. Heads should roll in the PFF but in the immediate future, Shamlan should go.
As it remains though, with a game to spare, Pakistan are out.