by Umaid Wasim
MOSCOW: Last week, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president Faisal Saleh Hayat claimed that Pakistan are eyeing a spot at the expanded 48-team FIFA World Cup in 2026. It’s something that pops up every time when a World Cup is around.
Back in 2014, he had told Dawn that Pakistan was on track to qualify for the 2022 edition in Qatar. He spoke of the ‘Vision 2022’ plan, a shambolic power-point document that only came to the fore after being in the vault for years after a dispute in the PFF in 2015.
In that document, they aimed at qualifying for the 202o Olympic Games in Tokyo as well. It spoke of founding a ‘Football Youth Development Centre’, where young players would be trained in order to “provide players to national training centre for future national teams”.
The PFF never completed several Goal Projects awarded to them by FIFA. They could’ve been those development centres. Anyways, that is the development vision and one that probably still exists.
Ask Andy Roxburgh, the technical director of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and he will tell you how outdated that vision is.
“In Asia, there is a lot lacking at youth level,” he said when asked by Dawn about Asian teams at this World Cup and the future ones during the press conference of the 2018 World Cup Technical Study Group, of which he is a part of, here at the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday.
“There need to be competitions at youth level,” he continued.
“They need to play a lot of matches in the youth leagues. Competition drives development. If you have top competition, it drives the players forward. There’s a long way to go in Asia. It has to be a long-term project. You need to develop long term all sorts of things.”
Talking about the Asian teams at the World Cup, Roxburgh — who took Scotland to the 1990 World Cup as manager — said he was impressed by Japan who went the farthest, losing 3-2 to Belgium in the last-16 having taken a 2-0 lead at one point.
“I would say Japan did very well,” he said. “The way they played against Belgium was fantastic.”
It was a World Cup where Asian teams enjoyed some great results. Saudi Arabia, ridiculed for their opening day hammering by Russia, defeated Egypt, South Korea delivered the knockout blow to 2014 champions Germany while Australia and Iran entered their final group games with a genuine chance of going through.
“Iran were very competitive,” said Roxburgh. “In a group with Portugal and Spain, they came very close.”
He said motivation for Asian teams would be higher considering the next World Cup would be in Qatar.
“Of course the motivation will be higher for Asian teams,” he said. “Yet it remains a long-term project. Asian teams need to work a lot on the infrastructure to win a World Cup. In today’s football, qualifying for and winning the World Cup is about design. It’s not by chance.”
Japan have a 100-year plan, made in 1991 to win the World Cup in 2092. China aims to host a World Cup in 2030 and win one by 2050. Those are long-term plans, unlike the one by PFF, which is now targeting qualification for a World Cup in eight years’ time. Yes, the 2026 World Cup offers Asia more qualification spots but is it really realistic for Pakistan to think about that?
According to Carlos Alberto Parreira, who led Brazil to the 1994 World Cup title, it would need them to go full Brazilian to do that. Since being reinstated after three years of a court battle, the PFF appointed Brazil’s Jose Antonio Nogueira as head coach and also hired trainer Jose Roberto Portella. Nogueira is rungs below great Brazilian managers like Parreira but if he could instill a Brazilian mentality over all levels, it might be the greatest service to Pakistan football. Continuity, though, would also be important.
“Back when I took Kuwait to the World Cup [in 1982], we worked on implementing the Brazilian style of play and mentality across all levels,” said Parreira.
“If you have 300 players divided and no structure to play, you can’t go forward. To have the foundation is very important. You need stability. Asian teams hire and fire coaches very quickly. One day there is a French coach, other day there is a German, and then there is a Spanish. The players need to work with one school of thought.”