Pakistan players lacking kick

And just like the other six, this one too ended in a defeat as Kuwait triumphed 4-0 in a SAFF Championships game.
Action from the match between Pakistan & Kuwait. Pakistan lost 0-4.
Action from the match between Pakistan & Kuwait. Pakistan lost 0-4.

BENGALURU:  It has not been an easy return to the international fold for the Pakistan national football team. On Saturday, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here, they played their seventh game since returning from a three-year exile from international football last year. And just like the other six, this one too ended in a defeat as Kuwait triumphed 4-0 in a SAFF Championships game.

This dismal run not only casts doubts over their prospects in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers but also raises questions over a plan to ease their way back into international football by relying on players brought in from overseas. 

Saturday’s starting eleven featured only five players born in Pakistan. The rest were all from the Pakistani diaspora scattered all across the world. Among them were the likes of Easah Suliman, who made his Pakistan debut just ten days ago but still was given the responsibility of captaining the side in their first two SAFF Championship games. Suliman was once touted as a potential Premier League player and represented England at every age group level. 

However, his career has so far not worked out as expected and he now plays in Portugal’s second division. Alongside him in defence were goalkeeper Yousuf Butt and Abdullah Iqbal, both Danish citizens. Ahead of them were three Englishmen. Otis Khan used to once wear Manchester United colours as an academy player. These days, he plays for League Two side Grimsby Town. Then there was Rahis Nabi, once of West Brom but now of non-league Redditch United and Harun Hamid who is currently unattached. Two other Danes were on the bench — striker Hassan Bashir who started against India and Adnan Mohammad.

But if the expectation was that this infusion of talent, bred in countries with proper footballing cultures, would deliver instant results, that has not happened. Pakistan has scored just a solitary goal in their seven games since last November while conceding 17. As was the case against India, they put in half the number of passes as their opponents and had just 30 percent of the possession. 

“We have a lot of new players. The football in Pakistan is changing,” said Pakistan’s assistant coach Torben Witajewski. “A lot of new players and they have never played together. We need to play more.”
Even as the focus has shifted to importing players, domestic production has stalled. Since 2017, Pakistan has had as many FIFA bans as they have international wins. After an initial ban in 2017 lasted five months, the Pakistan Football Federation was suspended by FIFA again in 2021. This time, the ban lasted more than one year but Pakistan still doesn’t have a football body — the sport there is run by a normalisation committee whose term FIFA recently extended to 2024. 

This constant state of disruption means that there has been no regular league football there for three years. After their last game in the SAFF Championships against Nepal, Pakistan will likely not play more football before heading into their crucial 2027 World Cup qualifier playoffs. They don’t have a good record here — Pakistan are the only Asian team never to have won a World Cup qualifier in its history.

Ahead of the two-legged playoff, there is talk of bringing in even more diaspora players. Names mooted include Manchester United academy graduate Etzaz Hussain and Adil Nabi, Rahis’ brother, who once played for ISL side Delhi Dynamos, on loan from West Bromwich Albion. But losing will mean less to these stars who will head back to their European clubs. For Pakistan football though, it will likely mean four more years of wilderness.

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The New Indian Express