by Faizan Liaquat [FPDC staffer from Karachi]
Pakistan U23 returned to international football after 3 years and 3 months, only to suffer a heavy defeat against Vietnam U23 in their Asian Games 2018 opener.
The game was controlled by Vietnam for whole 90 minutes with full attacking intent and confidence against a Pakistan team feeling lost, helpless and disorganised. However, it wasn’t until the 20th minute that Vietnam final scored when Quang Hai, after playing a beautiful one-two pass move with a team mate in the Pakistan box, tucked the ball under the legs of onrushing goalkeeper Saqib Hanif.
Pakistan U23 captain Saddam Hussain, one of the three senior players in the squad, tried to motivate his teammates to keep focus to no avail against relentless waves of Vietnamese attacks. Vietnamese captain Van Quyet made it 2-0 in 41st minute with a sweet right foot finish from outside the box beyond Saqib’s reach.
Vietnam even won a penalty just before halftime after Saddam fouled Cong Phoung in the box but Phoung’s spotkick struck the crossbar as score remained 2-0 at the whistle.
Vietnam maintained attacking pressure in 2nd half, with Pakistan attempting to be more physical on the pitch with Muhammad Riaz and Mohsin Ali earning yellows for some rough challenges. Goalkeeper Saqib Hanif, who was surprisingly selected ahead of Denmark-based Yousuf Butt in the final squad, had a mixed game. He brilliantly saved another Cong Phoung penalty in 2nd half, only to be at fault for Vietnam going 3-0 up a few minutes later when his poor clearance allowed Cong Phoung to finally get on the score sheet in 72nd minute. Soon after, Van Quyet almost made it four only for Saqib to pull off another impressive save and avoiding further embarrassment to Pakistan as it remained 3-0 at full time.
There was not a single positive for Pakistan from this game, showing the vast gulf of quality and class from their opponents. Pakistan lacked everything in defense, possession and match fitness, as if the team went there without any plan against one of Asia’s best young teams right now, except maybe just to show up and barely survive till final whistle. Some serious questions need to be addressed about team selection decisions, especially in ignoring overseas-based players that were easily eligible for Asian Games duty and would have added that extra quality required to show some fight on the pitch.
Unfortunately, the PFF seems to have other priorities as always in such major events. According to some reports, the U23 squad went with just a masseur but no doctor or physio. It was embarrassing to see, on live broadcast, a junior coach treating any Pakistani players that required medical attention during the game. Meanwhile, PFF President Faisal Saleh Hayat took his brother Asad Hayat to a free trip to Saudi Arabia for the SWAFF meeting which wasn’t needed and yet didn’t send a physio or doctor with national team for which they are accountable for.
Pakistan now faces Japan, who had beaten Nepal U23s 1-0 later that day. Japan’s squad comprises of mostly its impressive U21 side that took part in the Toulon Tournament over the summer in France, showing the confidence JFA has in their younger players facing off against older opponents. Japan had won football gold in 2010 Asian Games and is still considered as favorite in 2018 due to their football structure and talented squad.
Japan last faced Pakistan in Asian Games 2006 in which a Keisuke Honda freekick and a Taniguchi brace made them go 3-0 up by 57th minute only for a smart Muhammad Rasool freekick and a Naveed Akram stunner made it 3-2 by 82nd minute. Despite Japan clinging on to win, that is still considered as one of the best Pakistan U23 performances in recent Asian Games history.
Nonetheless, this time Japan not take anything to chance and would want to continue winning ways against a Pakistan team that desperately needs focus and confidence if they are to salvage anything in their remaining games.
Both Japan U23 and Vietnam U23 secured 3 points each while Pakistan is on 4th place in Group D.