In the past few days Pakistan saw some unexpected ups and downs in its footballing fortunes. The biggest disappointment was the unceremonious exit of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup. In their Group A slots in Colombo, KRL held a strong professional side of Bangladesh’s Sheikh Russel Krira Chakra Limited to a goalless draw in their opener and then whipped Bhutan’s Ugyen Academy FC 3-0 to put themselves in solid position to make a cut for the September final round. But they failed to live up to the expectations when it mattered the most as they tasted a 0-3 thrashing at the hands of the hosts Sri Lanka Air Force SC in their last outing and thus got out of the event.
Sri Lanka Air Force SC and Sheikh Russel of Bangladesh qualified for the final round from the group. Thus, KRL not only missed the final round berth, but also the chance to play the 2015 AFC Cup play-offs.
It is the last edition of the continental third-tier club slots and the six teams which have made it to the final round of this edition will play in the next year’s AFC Cup play-offs and from 2015 onwards the centralised qualifiers will determine the six teams which will play in the AFC Cup play-offs.
From Group B, Turkmenistan’s HTTU FC and North Korea’s Rimyongsu Club have qualified for the final round. And from Group C, Manang Marshyangdi Club of Nepal and Erchim FC of Mongolia have done so.
It was altogether a tough assignment for Pakistan’s most successful side KRL who had made history last year when they had finished as the runners-up, losing the final of the AFC President’s Cup to Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC 0-1 in Kuala Lumpur.
They had entered the tournament without their six key players. Their two star front-runners Kaleemullah and Mohammad Aadil are playing for Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi Bishkek in the Kyrgyzstan’s league.
Their skipper and the country’s seasoned defender Samar Ishaq and Saadullah did not go with the team due to injuries.
And Saddam Hussain and Bilawal-ur-Rehman were engaged with the Pakistan team in connection with their participation for the Al-Nakba International Football tournament being held in Palestine.
The KRL team management had requested Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to release Saddam for the Colombo assignment but he was not released. I think it was not a good decision from the PFF because the federation and Pakistan team’s Bahraini coach Mohammed Shamlan knew that KRL were missing their other top players for the most important assignment. They should have respected KRL’s humble request. Saddam is a player who plays with full commitment and his presence could have given much boost to the four-time Premier League champions KRL in Sri Lanka.
Moreover, Pakistan team was appearing in an invitational tournament in Nablus. It was just a preparatory tour for the Green-shirts in connection with the Asian Games. Had the PFF and Shamlan released Saddam to KRL, it could not have affected the national brigade.
Since Pakistan team was appearing in an unofficial tournament, it was the right of KRL not to release their players for the national duty but they sacrificed their interests for the sake of the country.
Sri Lanka Air Force SC did not release their three players for the national team which was going to participate in the Al-Nakba tournament. Their decision paid off as they qualified for the final round by beating KRL in their do-or-die battle.
Similarly, Iraqi coach Hakim Shaker formed a weaker Olympic team for the Al-Nakba tournament when several Iraqi clubs, including league leaders Arbil and Al-Zawraa, refused to release their first team players for the tournament.
It is a different matter that Iraq later pulled out of the event when most of their players were not issued permits by Israel.
It is natural for Shamlan to seek his own interest as he wants his team to impress at the international level, but the PFF should also give its input, particularly at a time when their most important club KRL had been passing through a crisis and needed a boost ahead of the AFC President’s Cup.
The KRL management has warned that if they ever faced a similar situation again they would involve their top management before taking the final decision. And they are right.
As per FIFA and AFC rules, clubs are bound to release their players for their respective national teams for only official assignments. Pakistan also faced a setback when their coach Mohammed Shamlan was not issued permit by Israel at Jordon for going with his team to Palestine for Al-Nakba tournament. He missed his team’s games against Sri Lanka and Jordon and there was no sign that he would be given permit before his team’s next show against Palestine scheduled for last Saturday.
The PFF was already aware of the tense relations between Israel and Bahrain, so it should have taken precautionary measures well before the team’s tour, by informing the authorities concerned that they have a Bahraini coach and asking whether he would be given permission.
If Israel did not oblige the PFF or the Palestine Football Association (PFA) for Shamlan, the federation could have involved FIFA and AFC in the matter well in advance. If it couldn’t work, the Bahraini coach could have been dropped from the touring party.
The PFF did intimate FIFA and AFC about Shamlan’s case, but it seems that it did not work.
Last month, FIFA threatened to expel Israel over its treatment of the Palestinian football players and officials in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
FIFA has given Israel until this summer to improve conditions for the Palestinian players and officials.
FIFA has also warned that Israel would face expulsion from the international body if it failed to address the issue.
FIFA wants Palestinian and Israeli football officials to sign a formal agreement over the issue at or around the June FIFA Congress. However, Palestinian officials say that the agreement could not be signed while Israelis continue to impose travel permit restrictions on everyone from footballers to consultants.
They also say that such restrictions often keep the Palestinian national team from competing with its full squad. The bans also restrict hosting games in the occupied West Bank.
In January, Israeli forces shot and injured two Palestinian football players in the West Bank. Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17, were shot while walking home from a training session in the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium in the town of al-Ram.
Meanwhile, Pakistan football received a boost when a three-member delegation of Korea Football Association (KFA) headed by its president President Mong Gyu Chung visited Lahore recently. They exchanged views with the PFF and promised that Pakistan would be extended assistance in its club, league and youth development efforts.