"A good goalkeeper is as valuable as a striker that's going to score 20 to 25 goals a season," former Arsenal goalkeeper John Lukic had said in an interview. But it is cause for concern when your keeper seems head and shoulders above the rest of your line-up.
Jaffar Khan, Pakistan's national captain and goalie, has been brilliant in his side's opening matches in the ongoing South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship; however, his skill has largely been on display not because the opponents have showcased extraordinary skill but mainly due to the inability of his teammates.
Unfortunately, the defensive line alone is not responsible for this as the mid-fielders have lost shape (despite Pakistan playing a 4-5-1 game) consistently and any push forward by the greenshirts has ended fruitless.
Watching the SAFF Championship closely, it is pretty clear that South Asian football is no spark of brilliance and has many a mile to go. But it is hard to imagine that this is the best Pakistan has to offer. The most glaring shortcomings are an inability to build up play from the back and keeping possession. The latter points to a lack of confidence amongst players in not only their ability but also that of their teammates. Clearing the ball, when close to your box, is not a bad practice but making a habit out of it gives you no control of the proceedings.
Evident in Pakistan's game against Maldives, more so than Bangladesh, was the ability of the opponent to control the game through short, quick passing. Pakistan were left wanting, and the few occasions they did manage to build up play, a lack of coordination between players left the ball in no-man's land.
Besides the ability to score goals even from a close range, the other element missing from Pakistan’s game is vision, which comes mostly when a group of players train and play together for an extended period of time. But when that is not possible, the players should be part of equally good domestic setups where each player is at par with the others as far as skill-level is concerned.
This could maybe reopen the debate of whether expatriate players should be included in the team. While these foreign-based players do not get enough time to gel with the team, it is obvious that the team needs them. The domestic league is the most obvious criminal and unless it is overhauled, Pakistan will keep fielding a lop-sided team. Missing a pass is one thing, but failing to even connect with ball when your left flank sets up the ball for you to shoot, is shameful.
Watching their previous games and those of the world’s top teams on video can aid with improving close control and evaluating passing and shooting options. It was surprising to see Maldives offering so much space up the field and Pakistan not making runs or passing the ball to open players.
Serbia's Zavisa Milosavljevic, Pakistan's new coach, obviously needs time to scout and feed decent players into the team, but it is a wonder how the some of the current players in the team have made it in national colours.
Organising Pakistan's game will be his biggest challenge so as to avoid situations when a player is almost challenging his own teammate to get possession of the ball. It is situations like these that often prompt statements like: "Just field 11 boys from Lyari or we should just stick to cricket."
The greenshirts could also do with better fitness, a lack of which was on display in the second halves of both of their games. It is a major impediment for Pakistan and has also led to the undoing of the national hockey team.