KARACHI: Pakistan will miss out on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship qualifiers, scheduled to be staged in July this year. No Pakistan’s national sides have been active in international competition since 2015 due to an administrative tug-of-war within the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), resulting in the country’s FIFA rankings to slide to a lowly 198. According to PFF officials, the national federation withdrew from the event last month due to the ongoing legal wrangling over the rightful office-bearers. Former national coach Tariq Lutfi believes the withdrawal will be another major loss for the country’s crisis-ridden football community and blamed the PFF’s quarrelling factions for it. “They are just wasting time; they can have all the court cases they want but it is the players who are suffering the most,” Lutfi was quoted as saying Sunday. “Back in the day the U-23 team were our main focus as their players were directly inducted into the national side.
The AFC U-23 Championship served as the breeding ground for our young talent, who need all the confidence and exposure they can get. This withdrawal deprives the players of a great opportunity. Most of them will get age-barred by the next edition. Their time will be gone.”
Lutfi has urged the PFF to sort out their issues as he feels their turmoil has brought all footballing activity in the country to a standstill. “Our players need a professional federation to run their business,” he said. “If the federation is just caught up in their own mess, how can we expect to have world class players?” Pakistan international Muhammad Adil, who played at the 2012 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers, believes nothing can atone for the time and playing opportunities the players are losing. “The players are the most important part of the sport, but we are also the most helpless party in this case,” said Adil. “We can only hope that the federation issues get resolved because missing out on these events is breaking our spirit. Our FIFA ranking is horrible and there are no prospects really. This two year gap has just taken away a very precious time from us.” The PFF is currently divided into two rival groups - one led by Faisal Saleh Hayat, who has FIFA and AFC’s, whereas in the opposite corner sits the Lahore High Court-appointed administrator Asad Munir.