Nadal continues to be the claycourt master
receive a hammering at SAFF Football event
Pakistan back on top of the world with a hockey gold at Mexico
Pakistan had to push up the work rate for the 1-0 victory over West Germany. The final reward was a brilliant goal by Khalid Mahmood. In the other semifinal, Australia battled to beat India 2-1 after extra time and set up a meeting with Pakistan
Pakistan took the Olympic Games hockey gold medal for the second time since claiming their first, at Rome in 1960, after having been restricted to a second place by arch-rivals India in the final at Tokyo four years later. With a team including as many as 12 newcomers, players appearing in their first Olympiad out of a squad of 18, the Pakistanis remained unbeaten throughout and didn't even have to meet India in the final at Mexico City in 1968.
They had a new captain in the left full-back Tariq Aziz, who was preferred over the outside-right Khalid Mahmood for the job, and the team in fact turned out to be one of the strongest outfits ever sent by the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) to the Olympic Games. The team management leadership too shifted from the ever-present Ali Iqtidar Shah Dara to Manzoor Hussain Atif, now having been promoted to the post of Brigadier in the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan defeated Australia by a 2-1 margin in the final at Mexico to win gold. Australia, who finally became Olympic Games hockey champions at Athens in 2004, were an emerging force in the sport about four decades ago. At Tokyo 1964, they had taken their first bronze medal, with India taking their seventh gold and Pakistan the silver medal.
For the first time since 1928, when they went on a spree of six successive gold medal triumphs in Olympic Games hockey, India did not make the final. They did pick up a bronze medal though, incidentally their first, after they defeated West Germany 2-1 in the match to decide the third and fourth places.
Khawaja Tariq Aziz had had a chequered career before the 1968 Olympics, remaining in and out of the team on a few occasions, but he did play in the Tokyo Olympiad of 1964. For five years, he had been an understudy to the great Atif who believed in the young man to lead the country to another gold victory. And he did.
Tariq Aziz had done his MSc in animal husbandry from his native Lyallpur (now known as Faisalabad) and then joined the teaching faculty at the West Pakistan Agriculture University. But it was as a hockey player and captain that he brought his country one of its highest achievements.
AN ENERGY-SAPPING EVENT
AT 7,300 FEET
In his chronicle of Pakistan hockey titled 'Going for Gold', noted Australian hockey historian and journalist Sydney Friskin wrote: "In the rarefied atmosphere of the 7,300 feet Mexico City plateau, the hopes and aspirations of several teams vanished into thin air in 1968. Nevertheless, it did elevate Pakistan to the top position once more in Olympic hockey. Brigadier (he was in fact promoted from Lieutenant Colonel during the earlier East African tour) Manzoor Hussain Atif was both manager and coach and Tariq Aziz took over as captain.
"In an energy-sapping tournament, sixteen teams were put to work with Pakistan winning all seven pool matches but not by convincing margins. The match against Australia, marred by rough play and sub-standard umpiring, was won 3-2 by Pakistan. Earlier, Pakistan had beaten Holland 6-0 with Abdul Rasheed scoring three goals, but the 2-1 victory over Great Britain was hard earned. So, too, was the success over Kenya by the same margin.
"Indeed Pakistan had to push up the work rate for the 1-0 victory over West Germany. The final reward was a brilliant goal by Khalid Mahmood. In the other semifinal, Australia battled to beat India 2-1 after extra time and set up a meeting with Pakistan.
"The Australians, who had survived a somewhat hazardous journey into the final, were at first overcome by Pakistan's stickwork and acceleration but later emphasised their fighting spirit. After fifteen minutes, Pakistan gained ascendancy and Abdul Rasheed put a strong shot past the goalkeeper Paul Dearing to establish a 1-0 lead, which was neutralised midway in the second half when Brian Glencross scored from a penalty corner.
"However, in the 56th minute, the inside-left Asad Malik scored the deciding goal to put the gold medal back in Pakistan's hands. India seized the bronze medal with a 2-1 victory over West Germany."
ZAKIR HUSSAIN BACK AFTER A DOZEN YEARS
An inspired selection in the Pakistan team was that of the goalkeeper Zakir Hussain, now 34 years old. Twelve years ago, he had appeared in his only other Olympic Games at Melbourne, where Pakistan lost to India in the final but earned their first silver medal. Zakir was excellent at Mexico, letting only five goals go past him in his team's nine matches.
Atif was now the team manager and coach after having appeared in four consecutive Olympic Games since Helsinki 1952. He was captain at Tokyo 1964, where Pakistan only managed a silver medal after the final against India.
The six players who were taking part in their second successive Olympiad were skipper Tariq Aziz himself, in addition to his vice-captain Asad Malik, goalkeeper Zakir Hussain, right-half Saeed Anwar, outside-right Khalid Mahmood and centre-forward Tariq Niazi.
Two players continued their respective families' legacy in hockey at the Olympic Games. Inside-right Abdul Rasheed, commonly known as Rasheed Junior, was a younger brother of former Pakistan captain Abdul Hameed 'Hameedi', who was himself an inside-right and appeared in four Olympic Games.
Hameedi led Pakistan to the silver medal at Melbourne 1956 and at Tokyo 1958 earned the nation its first Asian Games hockey gold medal. At Rome 1960, he finally stood at the top of the victory stand with Pakistan's first gold medal in an Olympiad.
Rasheed Junior was the top-scorer for Pakistan at Mexico with seven goals. Close on his heels was right full-back Tanvir Dar with six goals of his own. The now deceased Tanvir was a younger brother of another celebrated right full-back Munir Ahmed Dar, who from 1956 to 1964 represented Pakistan in three Olympic Games.
After their second successive gold medal at the Asian Games, at Jakarta in 1962, Munir Dar led Pakistan at the Bangkok Asiad in 1966. India beat them in the final by a 1-0 margin. Before the Mexico Olympiad, first Khalid Mahmood captained Pakistan -- at the London Pre-Olympic Tournament in October 1967 as well as in all matches throughout the year and then Tariq Aziz led the team to the International Festival in Nairobi, Kenya, in March 1968.
The Pakistan line-up for the Mexico Olympic Games hockey event was: Tariq Aziz (captain), Asad Malik (vice-captain), Zakir Hussain, Tanvir Dar, Saeed Anwar, Riaz Ahmed, Gulraiz Akhtar, Khalid Mahmood, Mohammad Ashfaq, Abdul Rasheed Jr, Jahangir Butt, Riazuddin, Tariq Niazi, Fazalur Rehman, Laeeq Ahmed, Farooq Khan, Qazi Salahuddin and Anwar Shah. The last five listed were not chosen for any playing elevens though.
PAKISTAN REPRESENTED IN
ONLY TWO SPORTS
The Pakistan contingent at Mexico 1968 was the smallest ever sent by the country to an Olympic Games event. Apart from the 18 hockey players, there were only two wrestlers in addition. It was decided against picking any representatives in athletics, boxing, cycling, shooting, swimming and weightlifting after the continuous poor results shown in these disciplines in previous Olympiads.
Hockey brought a gold medal and the two wrestlers in fact fought their hearts out without acquiring the required results. The reign of men like Mohammad Bashir -- who won Pakistan a bronze medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960, Mohammad Akhtar and Faiz Mohammad was almost over and the selectors' nod went for Sardar Mohammad and Taj Mohammad.
Both wrestlers really had a poor draw. Sardar lost his first round bantamweight fight to USA's Donald Behm, who eventually took the silver medal. In the third round, he came up against Abutaleb Gorgori of Iran, who was the bronze medal winner.
Taj Mohammad was hardly ever heard of after the Mexico Olympics. He had become Pakistan's lightweight champion at Dacca (Dhaka) in early 1968 but bowed out at the Olympiad in the third round to Bulgaria's Valtchev Enio, who went on to take the silver medal.
Sardar had won the bronze medal at the Arya Mehr Cup in Tehran, Iran, in 1967 and then gave a good account of himself on the Pakistan tour of the Soviet Union the same year. After Mexico, he won a gold medal at Edinburgh's Commonwealth Games in 1970 and a bronze at the Asian Games in Bangkok, also in 1970.
BEAMON'S LONG JUMP RECORD STILL STANDS
The choice of Mexico City to host the 1968 Olympics was a controversial one because of the city's high altitude, 2,240m, which meant that the air contained 30% less oxygen than at sea level. Sure enough, the rarefied air proved disastrous to many athletes competing in endurance events. On the other hand, the high altitude led to world records in all of the men's races that were 400m or shorter, including both relays, and in the 400m hurdles, in the long jump and triple jump as well.
Bob Beamon's spectacular long jump of 8.90m would last as a world record for 22 years. It was broken on August 30, 1991 when Mike Powell, also of the United States like Beamon, achieved a long jump of 8.95 metres or 29 feet 4.4 inches. However, Beamon's record still stands as the highest mark in the Olympic Games, even after 40 years have gone by.
The Mexico City Olympics, the first Summer Games to include sex testing for women, were blessed with many outstanding heroines. Mexican hurdler Enriqueta Basilio became the first woman to light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony. Eulalia Rolinska of Poland, Gladys de Seminario of Peru and Nuria Ortiz of Mexico were the first women to compete in shooting. Wyomia Tyus of the United States became the first repeat winner of the 100m dash.
The most popular female athlete of the 1968 Games was Vera Caslavska, the Czech gymnast. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia two months before the Olympics, Caslavska went into hiding for three weeks. She emerged to win four gold medals and two silvers.
On the male side, Al Oerter of the United States won the discus throw for the fourth time. The 1968 Games also saw the first drug disqualification, as a Swedish entrant in the modern pentathlon, Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, tested positive... for excessive alcohol.
The Olympiad in Mexico was participated by as many as 112 nations. There were 5,516 athletes in all, 781 women and 4,735 men, who took part in 172 events in 20 different sports.
The 1968 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XIX Olympiad, were celebrated after Mexico City had beaten out bids from Detroit, Buenos Aires and Lyon to host the Games in 1963.
The Games were preceded by the Tlatelolco massacre, in which hundreds of students were killed by security forces ten days before the opening day. It is the only Games ever held in Latin America, and it was the second ever outside of Europe, Australia, or the USA.
The high altitude of Mexico City (2,240m) made it difficult for many endurance athletes to adapt to the oxygen-deprived air. The high altitude was also credited with contributing to many record setting jumps and leaps in the long jump, high jump and pole vault events.
For the first time, athletes from East and West Germany were members of separate teams, after having competed in a combined team in 1964.
In the triple jump, the previous world record was improved five times by three different athletes.
Dick Fosbury won the gold medal in the high jump using the radical Fosbury flop technique, which quickly became the dominant technique in the event.
In the 200m medal award ceremony, two African-American athletes Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) raised their black-gloved fists as a symbol of Black Power. As punishment, the International Olympic Committee banned them from the Olympic Games for life.
After winning the gold medal for heavyweight boxing, George Foreman walked around the ring with a tiny American flag, bowing several times to the audience.
It was the first games at which there was a significant African presence in men's distance running. Africans won medals in all events from 800m to the marathon and in so doing set a trend for future games.
United States topped the medals table with a total of 107, that included 45 gold, 28 silver and 34 bronze. Soviet Union were second with a tally of 91, that comprised 29 gold, 32 silver and 30 bronze. Japan were placed third with 11 gold medals in a total of 25.
The other nations in the top ten were: Hungary 32 (10-10-12), East Germany 25 (9-9-7), France 15 (7-3-5), Czechoslovakia 13 (7-2-4), West Germany 26 (5-11-10), Australia 17 (5-7-5) and Great Britain 13 (5-5-3). Hosts Mexico won three of each colour of medals.
NEXT WEEK: Pakistan at 1972 Olympic Games in Munich
writer is Group Editor Sports of 'The News'
PAKISTAN AT 1968 OLYMPIC GAMES: ALL RESULTS
Group B: Pakistan beat Holland 6-0 (half-time 3-0), beat France 1-0 (h-t 0-0), beat Australia 3-2 (h-t Australia 2-1), beat Argentina 5-0 (h-t 4-0), beat Great Britain 2-1 (h-t 1-0), beat Malaysia 4-0 (h-t 1-0), beat Kenya 2-1 (h-t 2-0). Pakistan topped Group B 7 played, 7 won, GF 23, GA 4, points 14. Semifinals Pakistan beat West Germany 1-0 in overtime (h-t 0-0). Final Pakistan beat Australia 2-1 (h-t 1-0). Pakistan won the gold medal
Bantamweight (up to 57kg): 1st round Sardar Mohammad lost to Donald Behm (USA), 2nd round beat Sukhbastar Bazaryn (Mongolia), 3rd round lost to Abutaleb Gorgori (Iran)
Lightweight (up to 70kg): 1st round Taj Mohammad beat Stefanos Ioannidis (Greece), 2nd round lost to Seyit Agrali (Turkey), 3rd round lost to Valtchev Enio (Bulgaria) TKO
PAKISTAN WON A GOLD MEDAL
The biggest tragedy for our squash is that people at the helm of the game at the national level are unwilling to admit that Pakistan squash is currently experiencing its darkest phase
By Khalid Hussain
The world of Pakistan squash seems to have been entirely built on sand. From the coaching of the players, to the so-called national junior development programme, you will hardly find anything concrete in the very structure of the game in a country that once fuelled world squash with an unlimited supply of champions.
The biggest tragedy for our squash is that the people at the helm of the game at the national level are unwilling to admit that Pakistan squash is currently experiencing its darkest phase.
The Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) officials may like to think otherwise, but the bitter truth is that a sport which brought a nascent state on the map of international sport more than five decades back, is now in a shambles.
It's a sad scenario but to bring any improvement in it, you will have to first accept it that that's the way things stand for Pakistan squash at the moment.
Less than ten years after the exit of Jansher Khan -- the last of the country's great champions -- squash has moved perilously close to attaining the status of being a 'dead sport' in Pakistan.
Frankly speaking, squash was never a sport for the masses in Pakistan. Unlike cricket and hockey, squash seldom enjoyed the luxury of pulling huge crowds to the courts even at the time when legends Jahangir and Jansher Khan rode roughshod over their rivals on the international circuit.
But it was still the third most popular sport in the country, I would vouch for that. As a scribe who has been covering the sport for 18 years, I've kept a keen eye on the various ups and downs Pakistan squash has experienced since 1990.
Till a few years back, people used to ask me what's happening in Pakistan and whether we will produce a world champion sometime soon. They may not actually go and see a squash match but they did take an interest in the game.
But those squash fans have slowly disappeared. I won't blame them. It's difficult to follow a sport which you don't play yourself and in which you don't have any heroes to keep track of.
The era of Jahangir and Jansher is long gone and to tell you the truth nobody is really bothered when Aamir Atlas Khan wins a C grade tournament in Islamabad and is hailed as the next best thing for Pakistan squash.
For a few people, who are still involved with Pakistan squash either as ex-players, referees, family members of current players, officials or journalists, having a squash tournament in the country is like going through the motions.
As a keen observer of the game, there is no doubt in my mind that the rare 'title-winning triumphs' our squash players achieve on home soil these days are engineered by the PSF. They do it intentionally or unintentionally is besides the point.
The only purpose that tournaments like the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Open serve is that they keep our handful of squash professionals barely afloat in the top-100 world rankings.
As my good friend Jahangir Khan likes to point it, "I would like to see what happens to the rankings of our players if we stopped hosting such tournaments. I'm sure they (Pakistani players) would be unable to retain their place even in the top-100 rankings."
For anybody who knows how the world rankings work, there cannot be a disagreement.
Less than one percent of professional squash is played in Pakistan. The rest happens in places like Europe, North America and across the Asian continent.
If the PSF believes it can help a Pakistani become a world champion in the future just by holding tailor-made ranking events in the country, then it's barking up the wrong tree. Unless our players start performing in ranking tournaments abroad, they cannot be considered world class players.
There is no doubt in my mind that Aamir Atlas and Farhan Mahboob are talented youngsters but they are not world class players. To attain that status, the boys will have to do well on the international circuit outside Pakistan, like that vastly-accomplished Egyptian boy Ramy Ashour, who can win a big squash match anywhere in the world.
Sadly, that hasn't been happening for our very own squash players.
Take for example the Asian Squash Championships held in Kuwait earlier this year. The Pakistanis lost to underdogs Kuwait!
When Jahangir heard about it, he thought it was a joke. "In the past, even our second or third string players would have beaten the Kuwaitis while playing with their left hands," he remarks.
If the PSF people were unaware what was going on, then the debacle in Kuwait should have served as an eye-opener.
But that didn't happen. There was no post-mortem of that humiliating loss and it was business as usual for the gentlemen entrusted with the duties to run a game that became a part of our national fabric through the efforts of legends like Hashim Khan, Azam Khan, Roshan Khan, Mohibullah, Qamar Zaman, Gogi Alauddin, Jahangir and Jansher.
What the Air Marshals and the Wing Commanders at the helm of Pakistan squash don't seem to understand is that the game needs much more than those cosmetic efforts they've been carrying out in recent times. The minor tournaments, the stereotype training camps, the tall claims are not enough. In fact in most cases, they are counterproductive.
Take for instance, events like the CAS Open.
In the present scenario, I believe these contests serve as mere crutches for our players, enabling them to remain a part of the cutthroat world of professional squash. They provide a short-term solution by helping them remain somewhere on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) computer.
But there are long-term repercussions of such an exercise. It provides a comfort zone to our players, which isn't exactly the right luxury for budding sportsmen. The players know if they do well in a series of the Pakistan circuit events, they would earn enough world ranking points to stay in the top-100. For them, the more important part is that they will also continue to make a living. The sort of hunger that fuelled the great Khans is missing.
Events like the CAS Open also serve PSF's purpose. Having an all-Pakistan final of a world ranking event in Islamabad is good publicity for them. It provides the platform for the PSF chief to claim that a new era has begun for Pakistan squash.
Is that really the case? It could be provided we are content with having a slim presence of our players in the top-100 and are unperturbed if our national team continues to lose against minnows Kuwait, Qatar or India.
It's time that we stopped fooling ourselves. Pakistan squash has achieved dizzying heights in the past and it would be criminal to let it sink to abysmal depths.
It's time that we launch a nation-wide drive to lift the fortunes of Pakistan squash.
The biggest responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). For years, PAF has been controlling national squash affairs and provides PSF with financial and administrative support. In fact, PSF is actually a part of the PAF, like a multi-national will have a separate division looking after its Corporate Social Responsibility.
In return, the PAF chief gets the post of PSF president. He can install his handpicked officers to become senior vice-president, secretary and treasurer of the federation.
To be fair with the PAF, it has contributed a lot to Pakistan squash in the past. But the problem is that its contribution towards Pakistan squash is insufficient in the current circumstances.
To be continued next Sunday (in the second part, the writer will discuss the problems facing Pakistan squash and the ways and means that can be used to promote it)
writer is Editor Sports
After the French Open miracle, he now eyes the Wimbledon title
After almost every competition, he has to lift a weight, however not with compulsion but with a sense of joy. It is the weight of the trophy or the cup he is awarded in return for his victory. He is No. 2 in the ranking but poses the toughest challenge to the No. 1 ranked Roger Federer of Switzerland.
He loses many times, but is bent upon defeating Federer almost every time, on the claycourt. He has come from behind, making way for himself, beating his much senior opponents, the Russian Marat Safin, American Andy Roddick and Australian Lytton Hewitt. He is a Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, who has proved himself to be a perfect foil to Federer's destructive advances.
Nadal defeated Federer in the French Open final for the third year running on Sunday and joined Swedish legend Bjorn Borg as the only man to win four straight titles at Roland Garros.
The Spaniard scored a stunning 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 triumph over the world No. 1, taking the last nine games of the match, in stark contrast to the two four-set battles he edged to see off Federer in the two previous finals.
Nadal has now won all 28 matches he has played at Roland Garros and having just turned 22, he is well on his way to replacing Borg as the greatest claycourt player of all time. Federer leaves with the sorry record of being the only player in Grand Slam history to lose to the same player in three consecutive finals. It was the second-most lopsided French Open final ever after that of 1977 when Brian Gottfried won just three games off Guillermo Vilas.
Federer described Nadal as a 'hell of a claycourt player' after the Spaniard won a historic fourth successive Monte Carlo Masters title in the last week of April. It was the world number one's third loss in a row in the final against Nadal and his seventh defeat in eight claycourt clashes, the deadly slow surface on which the 21-year-old Mallorcan is the undisputed ruler.
Federer has now lost 10 of his 16 career meetings with Nadal. Federer's only win on clay against the champion came in the Hamburg Masters final in 2007, which brought to an end Nadal's record 81-match winning record on the surface. The last man to win four Monte Carlo titles in a row was New Zealand's Anthony Wilding in 1914, but Nadal, who now has 25 career titles, is the first man to complete the feat in the Open era.
Nadal is a great player and getting greater, and his recent French Open for fourth time consecutively proves it well. He is fast ascending towards the number one ATP ranking. To his credit, he has a number of achievements; he has been the French Open winner for the last four years consecutively, making the No. 1, Roger Federer, to kneel down before his game on the claycourt, besides remaining unconquerable in all the 27 matches during the three years at the competition. This has made him a holder of the longest winning streak among male players on a single surface in the Open era.
In Wimbledon last year, Nadal reached his second final in a row, having previously been beaten by Federer in 2006. If Roger Federer is the present champion of Wimbledon, and Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras past champions, the 22-year old Rafael Nadal is the future champion: he poses the toughest challenge to the defending champion Roger Federer.
It was just this prediction which glimpsed in a joke of Federer on Rafael, immediately after capturing the fifth straight Wimbledon title last year and his 11th Grand Slam crown. Federer joked that he was happy to win while he can "before Rafa takes them all". He was later asked if those were the words of a humble champion or of a man sensing a younger contender in Rafael Nadal breathing down his neck.
"What I meant was that he came so close that I think he deserves a title here and, you know, he's not getting any worse," said Federer. Federer, however, believes his dreams of a career Grand Slam are still alive despite the muscle-bound nightmare of Rafael Nadal continuing to haunt him across Europe's clay courts.
"I pushed Rafa and I feel I can beat him if I play the right way. I didn't have that feeling last year," said Federer who, in 2008, has lost his Australian Open title and laboured under glandular fever. While Federer's victory was widely expected at Wimbledon last year, it would come by a so narrow margin and witness a see-saw situation in the final game against Rafael Nadal was least expected.
Nadal's claycourt juggernaut roared ahead with the Spaniard winning his 100th match from 101 on the surface to reach the quarter-finals of the Barcelona Open in late April, the tournament which he marvellously won by defeating his compatriot David Ferrer.
While his top marvel is defeating top seed Roger Federer again and again, a feat no other player could do during more than last five years, Nadal is a two-time singles runner-up at the Wimbledon (2006-07).
In 2005, Nadal became the fourth youngest French Open champion in the Open era, defeating Argentina's Mariano Puerta in the final and the first teenager to win a Grand Slam singles title since Pete Sampras won the 1990 US Open at age 19. Nadal is the first teenager to win at least six titles in a year since Agassi in 1988 at the age of 18.
The account of the fierce rivalry between Nadal and Federer in 2006 relates several defeats to Federer at the hands of Nadal; in Dubai, winning 2ñ6, 6ñ4, 6ñ4, at the Monte Carlo Masters by a score of 6ñ2, 6ñ7, 6ñ3, 7ñ6 and in the Rome Masters final by 6ñ7, 7ñ6, 6ñ4, 2ñ6, 7ñ6.
Nadal and Federer became the only pair of men in the open era to reach the Wimbledon final after having both played in the French Open final just a month before. There have been several men to reach the Wimbledon final after making the French Open final, but never had the same two men accomplished such a feat at the same time. They repeated this feat in 2007.
In 2008, Nadal became only the second player in history to win both the singles and doubles of a Masters Series tournament, the other being Jim Courier at the 1991 Indian Wells tournament.
For the No. 1, Roger Federer and his immediate competitor No 2 Rafael Nadal, after the French Open which has been won by Nadal in Paris, the Wimbledon next month in London is going to be the most crucial event of the ATP calendar year 2008. Interestingly, the Spaniard has successfully defended the French Open for the fourth time.
In London, the top seed Swiss is the defending champion of Wimbledon and is seriously challenged by Rafael Nadal, who is the toughest rival of the Swiss master on the grasscourt, as shown by the claycourt master last year in 2007. The question as to who will overthrow the sole king of the empire of tennis has found its answer in the form of Rafael Nadal, and this will be proved this time in London.
receive a hammering at SAFF Football event
All this prompted the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to remove the head coach Akhtar Mohiuddin, who was at the helm of affairs since Bahraini coach Salman Ahmad Sharida left the scene
By Alam Zeb Safi
The Pakistan football team, which was deemed as one of the seeded sides of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, has come back without securing any points after losing three back to back matches in the Maldives.
The Greenshirts made a poor start when they faced a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of one of the co-hosts Maldives in a tie held at the National Stadium in Male on June 3, followed by yet another 2-1 defeat at the hands of arch-rivals and defending champions India on June 5.
In their last match too the Pakistani footballers failed to get a consolation win, even against struggling Nepal when they went down to the Himalayan nation 4-1. All this prompted the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to remove the head coach Akhtar Mohiuddin, who was at the helm of affairs since Bahraini coach Salman Ahmad Sharida left the scene in the wake of the 15th Asian Games in Qatar in December 2006.
It was one of the most opportune chances for the national team to leave an impression in football's South Asian World Cup (SAFF Championship), but it could not do so because of some flaws in the selection and other areas.
First comes the selection of the team which I would say was marred by certain likes and dislikes. Though luck also played a role leaving the selectors with little option to pick a better side because of the fitness problems of some of the key players like the experienced skipper Mohammad Essa, strikers Mohammad Rasool, Zulfiqar Shah, the British-based goalkeeper Iltaf Ahmad, British-based defender Zeeshan Rehman and even the experienced midfielder Adeel Ahmad, who were forced to stay away from the eight-nation tournament.
In spite of this major shock to the selection committee, in the first step it still did not care much and dropped a crucial striker Shakir Lashari and the defender Mohammad Haji. Haji of PIA could have been a better replacement of the veteran Tanveer Ahmad of WAPDA, who was ignored due to his 'old age' after giving him a final chance in the AFC Challenge Cup held in Chinese Taipei in May.
Though keeping in view the standard of Pakistan's football no player is indispensable for the team but still the duo could have been useful additions as they are regarded as specialists in their respective areas at the domestic level.
Next comes the preparatory phase which I must say was not enough to build the lot for a more competitive tournament like the SAFF event, for which the opponents had made almost four months preparations. The Pakistani coach could get just fifteen days to prepare a team which needed to be built up because of the exclusion of a few key players due to injury and the induction of fresh faces.
Then came the actual competition in the Maldives in which the team's defence and to a certain extent midfield failed to bring respite to the struggling management and as a consequence the coach Akhtar was made a scapegoat and removed at a time when he had not yet reached his country.
The humiliating stint of the national team in Maldives has become a matter of grave concern for the football governing body (PFF) and it has started thinking about bringing another coach, foreign or another local, to put the team on the winning track. The decision about who will replace Akhtar Mohiuddin as coach is expected to come up in the PFF Congress and the executive committee meeting to be held in Lahore on June 21.
But I would say that only hiring the services of a local or even a foreign coach will not be able to bring a marked improvement in the standard of football in the country until certain drastic steps are taken with immediate effect.
Firstly, PFF should put its main domestic competition, the PFF Premier League, on professional footings to prepare healthy players. In Pakistan the league, normally featuring 14 leading teams of the country, is usually finished in just three months contrary to the nature of the league in other countries where it spreads over nine months which keeps the players in the major part of the calendar year in match practice.
The PFF should also bring the PFF League (B Division) to the level of the Premier League so a proper system will prevail. Nowadays the Premier League is played on a constant league basis, while in B-Division League the Super Sixes round has been inducted which violates the nature of the actual league. Both the A and B division leagues should be conducted with the same format.
The short nature of the league in Pakistan always puts the fitness of the players at great risk because a player once injured is unable to recover properly and he is forced rather by his department to play in spite of his injury for achieving victories in the league. If the format of the league is kept on professional footing then the players will not only get enough time between two matches to recover from injuries but it will also give the concerned coaches sufficient time to work on the tactical and technical aspects of the players which will help the country later on in the process.
If the format is corrected then the induction of foreign players could also be made as, at this stage, no professional footballer, even those foreigners who represent Pakistan at the international level these days, will also not like to play in the sub-standard league here.
Moreover, Pakistani players are in need of more possible international exposure and improvement would be merely a dream if the authorities rely on only a few trips in a year.
The federation will definitely face monetary problems in staging such a league and arranging foreign trips, but for this purpose it will have to keep its marketing department more active and efficient as without constant revenue generation the authorities would not be able to achieve their objectives.
At this stage when the national team has been badly suffering at the international level, the PFF should show miracles to bring in investment and once the team will start giving results the sponsors will automatically come and then it would not be difficult for the federation to handle the affairs. It is the right time for the PFF to bring drastic changes in the basic structure otherwise the situation would become out of control.
writer is a staff member of 'The News' based at Karachi