By Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
Following an anti-climatic dismissal from the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers, it’s straight back to the drawing board for the Pakistan Football Federation and coach Zavisa Milosavljević.
The Serbian took charge in November 2011, but only faced his true challenge this March.
Getting past Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Macau was never going to be easy, but hard-luck and a questionable midfield eventually led to narrow losses against the two tough teams.
While Zavisa is set to stay on as the coach, the PFF, perhaps for the first time, deserves some credit.
They managed to organize several friendly tours to Nepal, Maldives and Dubai, making sure that the troops were well-drilled before the penultimate matches. However in Bishkek, the Tajiks edged it out in injury time and Pakistan’s momentum went out of the window.
And now that the team has been eliminated, instead of ruthless sackings and curbing down development, the PFF should invest even more. Keeping Zavisa at the helm shows vision, but it remains to be seen what measures are taken in order to prepare the boys for SAFF Cup later this year.
According to Marketing Director, Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a triangular series with Bangladesh and India in England are in the pipeline for this June. That will not only serve as a much-needed PR boost, but the locality of the games will allow almost all of the foreign-based players to take part.
Hassan Bashir (Nordvest FC), Muhammad Ali (BK Avarta), Yacoob Butt (Skovshoved) and Yousuf Butt (BK Glostrup Albertslund) have established themselves as regular starters, with young goalkeeper Yousuf being tipped as the next custodian of the posts by star defender Kamran Khan.
However, the absences of Shabir Khan (Worcester City FC), Zesh Rehman (Kitchee SC), Amjad Iqbal (Bradford Park Avenue) and Nabil Aslam (AC Horsens) cost the side valuable points and their return should be the PFF’s first priority in terms of squad management.
Also, convincing youngsters such as Luke Dean (Harrogate Town) to play could prove to be fruitful gamble that might eventually lead to call-ups for prominent stars such as Adil Nabi (West Bromwich Albion), Etzaz Hussain (Molde) and Sami Malik (Eintracht Braunschweig).
Continuation of friendly games is also a must and in order to train the players more effectively such ties must be arranged in both August and September when the SAFF Cup rolls near.
Zavisa Milosavljević has been given a life-line which no one expected and the Serb needs to capitalize on it to stay on, which ultimately means winning South Asia’s most prestigious football tournament.