By Mohammed Shahnawaz, Mag The Weekly
Pakistan have utilised FIFA dates well over the last couple of months with trips to Kabul in August and Bacolod (Philippines). It seems like the idea of regular friendly matches is creeping into the PFF’s mindset. Playing regular friendly matches and having continuity is not something associated with the national team therefore the coaches struggle to build a strong team for big tournaments, a reason that has seen Pakistan fail repeatedly.
It has long been argued that football in Pakistan has merely been taken as a formality by the authorities to tick the boxes and ensure the flow of funds whilst PFF doesn’t want to spend its own or raise through marketing. Pakistan has struggled to play regular matches on FIFA dates unless there are competitive matches such as World Cup Qualifiers or AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers. In 2010 Pakistan senior team didn’t play a single competitive match nor it played any friendlies in order to prepare for a hectic 2011. In 2011 it only played competitive matches in Olympic Qualifiers, AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers, World Cup Qualifiers and SAFF Championships, but there were no friendly matches in between all that to prepare for any of the big events, and unsurprisingly Pakistan failed to progress in any of those events.
Arrival of Zavisa gave fans hope that maybe, Pakistan will be able to introduce the culture of playing regular games and change the fortunes of the national football team; alas, it didn’t happen. Pakistan only played 1 international friendly in 2012 which came through Zavisa’s personal attempts with fellow countryman Radojko Avramovic then coach of Singapore and Pakistan managed to play the year’s only friendly match! This came after late cancellation of Palestine’s planned visit to Pakistan which faced visa hurdles. However Zavisa had plenty of opportunities with the U22 side which failed to produce results anywhere near satisfactory after friendly trips to Bahrain, Palestine, Thailand and the qualifiers in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan started 2013 brightly by plying friendly matches against Nepal andMaldives ahead of the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in which it once again failed to qualify, this highlighted how last minute friendlies weren’t enough and instead, a sustained friendly match schedule throughout 2012 would have served a better purpose.
Pakistan missed a number of FIFA matchdays after the failure in AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers and ignored the fact that SAFF Cup was around the corner, PFF pinned hopes on a UK tour for June only to be let down once again on the last minute. Another failed series against Bangladesh ahead of SAFF Championship in August saw Pakistan make a historic trip to Kabul in which the Shaheens lost 3-0 with a domestic squad and cost the coach his job.
Mohammed Al Shamlan has urged the PFF for regular matches on FIFA dates and the fans hope that the Bahraini tactician can utilise his Middle Eastern connections to effect, and arrange regular matches in the region against Arab opponents if PFF fails to find anything else. That is something PFF has not been effective in arranging, matches at home or away on regular basis and that too early enough, it is often last minute which then get caught in the visa issues and result in postponements. Lack of financial or corporate support means Pakistan is unable to travel abroad too often and poor international relations with other federations have also not helped the cause as many of PFF’s requests often get rejected apart from few countries like Thailand, Bahrain and UAE.
Pakistan has a barren 2014 without any competitive matches for the senior side therefore it must use the time to its advantage to prepare the team for a busy 2015 which will have AFC Challenge Cup qualification round, SAFF Championship in India and the 2018 World Cup Qualification will also start its preliminary rounds. Credit to the PFF for lining up a friendly in advance in 2014 with the visit of Afghanistan on 5th of March in Lahore but it must not forget the remaining FIFA dates in November this year and rest of 2014 in order to give the players more international exposure. Next 16 months should be used properly by playing appropriate teams both home and away so the players get used to different climates, styles and home support in order to form a complete unit for 2015.