As Pakistan fly out to take take part in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifying campaign, the expectations are high for once but the challenges the team face are also tough. Pakistan goes into central Asia to face 2 teams with conditions suiting them. Pakistan’s preparation have been satisfying so far with 4 international matches against south Asian rivals Nepal and Maldives and a small training stint planned in Dubai.
Looking at the squad announced by Zavisa, some fans have started to worry, with absence of local players like Rasool, Rizwan and Zia as well as the key overseas players such as Shabir Khan, Amjad Iqbal and Zesh Rehman the onus now shifts to the most of domestic based players, however fans have little faith in them as in training camp the squad has been struggling against local city clubs of Lahore. To make matters worse the squad announcement has left fans baffled on why the coach has picked 20member squad when the AFC allows 23 and that too very dubious selections making into the final 20.
The retaining of Jaffar Khan as captain is the most worrying as the Army goalkeeper is into his late 30’s (likely just official age) and his lack of height, sharpness, agility and vision has been regularly exposed under every coach that has managed Pakistan over the last decade. While Zavisa had made it clear that he understood the threats posed by his opponents Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with long range shots, yet his persistence with Jaffar as captain which will make him a sure starter is hard to digest. Jaffar who stands 5’10 is 4 inches shorter than his Danish counterpart Yousuf Butt who is an excellent shot stopper as well has having the height advantage where Jaffar has often failed.
India failed to get automatic qualification this week as they suffer 1-0 loss at the hands of Myanmar when the Blue Tigers only needed a draw, having collected 2 wins earlier but it was all their own undoings that cost Wim Kovermans the qualification. India made a mess of their qualification and the fans and experts have only 1 man to blame and that is the head coach Wim Kovermans, his poor squad selection in the first place for the qualifiers and later his tactics and team selections were exposed as minnows Taiwan held India to 1-1 up until injury time to lose 2-1 and then Guam held India 0-0 at half time only to for India to run riot 4-0 in the second half to set up the all important with with the hosts.
Wim opted for very questionable tactics with playing 1 lone striker, that too the short Sunul Chetri who had struggled to get any playing time at Sporting Lisbon B team for the first 6months of the season. It worked out just fine in the first 2 games as midfielders and substitute strikers chipped in with goals alongside Chetri but Wim was exposed in the final game. He had benched India’s player of the year Syed Rahim Nabi, one of the best midfielder, Lalrindika Ralte, striker Jeje and gone once again with Sunil Chetri as lone striker. His defensive mindset seeking a draw was punished by the hosts as they dominated the game took a deserved win and qualification with them. India now wait for the remaining 2 groups to have a chance of going through as one of the best runner ups, they already trial Bangladesh by a goal. The target of 2 wins with a hefty goal difference is clear to Pakistan and to achieve that Zavisa must encourage positive display only then can the Greenshirts have any chance of qualification.
So in all that what can Zavisa learn, well he should play the best 11 and not the best known 11 to him, that means parting ways with Yasir Afridi in the middle who struggles to hold his place at his club side KRL With absence of Zia us Salam and Amjad Iqbal, Yasir has got an automatic spot however Yaqoob put in man of the match performance against Maldives and should persisted with as he offers much more physically and technically than Yasir just chasing shadows.
As argued Jaffar Khan is another who holds huge influence within Pakistani football through his departmental side Army and his fellow Pashtoon coach Aslam Khan, a player who wouldn’t merit a place in presence of Saqib and Yousuf is named captain despite his poor performance and remarks against the overseas players prior to Nepal tour which could prove divisive within the camp.
It is also important that Zavisa learns something from the success of Afghanistan who qualified ahead of Laos from their group. Yousuf Kargar the Lions of Khorasan coach has done remarkable job something no Pakistani coach has managed to do, blending his local based players with majority of overseas players and qualifying his troops to the final round, having made it to the final of SAFF Cup in 2011. Kargar had 14 overseas based players and 11 local in his final 23. While in Pakistan some members of the coaching staff welcome the overseas players, the captain Jaffar has made his feelings clear and that doesn’t help the cause.
So Zavisa should follow the method of Kargar, pick his best 11 and execute his plan and not favour particular players because it is not the time to experiment or dole out favours. Poor selection based on nepotism has been the reason behind Pakistan’s failures prior to Zavisa and while the performances have improved in recent months, selection of some players still has question mark on them.
Zavisa also knows this could well be his last event with Pakistan if he fails to qualify, and if manages to qualify he could get an extension to take the team to the finals a year from now. So whats it going to be? hand out favours to certain players like Jaffar Khan and Yasir Afridi etc or play his best 11 and look to qualify for the first time in last 6years, do something which Akhtar, Lutfi and Kottan has failed to with the Greenshirts.
If Zavisa avoids the mistakes similar to Wim Kovermans he can get his boys to deliver and at least snatch the runner up slot to qualify. Kyrgyzstan and Macau linger 30places below Pakistan in rankings with Kyrgyzstan having only played 1 international match since July 2011. However playing at home with suitable conditions and crowd they can surprise the visitors.
Its now or never for Zavisa with the Greenshirts.