By Usama Mushtaq Bhutta
Pakistan football team is all set to kick the drought of more than 3 years of not participating in any competitive tournament on August 14, 2018 which is also the independence day of the country. Pak Shaheens will depart for Indonesia on August 11 while the squad for 2018 Asian Games will be announced just one day before team’s departure.
Pakistani football fans may not be very much optimistic for their national side’s performance in the second largest event organised by International Olympic Association (IOA) because of long gap which the country’s football had to face. However, significant changes, as compared to past, may play a key role in raising their hopes. The major one is appointment of a Brazilian head coach for the first time ever in Pakistan football’s history, while induction of the Brazilian trainer José Antonio Nogueira in the coaching staff also follows suit. Secondly, Green shirts’ recent performances against top Bahraini clubs are also a motivating factor for football fans in Pakistan.
Currently ranked at 201 in FIFA, team Pakistan now faces a challenge in group D of Asian Games against Japan, Vietnam and Nepal. These countries are now ranked at 61, 102 and 161 in FIFA rankings respectively. Apparently, it looks a no-advancing situation for Shaheens but the format of 2018 Asian Games presents a different story. The current format has 25 teams participating in the event which are drawn in 6 groups. 16 teams will qualify for the knockouts which means that the teams placed 3rd in respective groups have a fair chance of going through. If Pakistan enters the ground with points-grabbing strategy then the fans will see the team participating in the pre-quarters which is ultimately a huge success for the team and fans.
In 2014 Asian Games, Pakistan was drawn with China and North Korea in a 3-membered group. Green shirts gave tough time to Chinese and Koreans but lost both matches by difference of 1 and 2 goals respectively. However, an all squared second game against neighbours would have seen Pakistan buying the tickets for pre quarterfinals.