KARACHI: Pakistan will return home this (Monday) evening from Kuantan (Malaysia) after failing to accomplish the mission of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in spite of giving an impressive performance in the seven-nation Asia Cup.
The former champions lost to South Korea 0-1 in a tense Asia Cup final on Saturday, a result which means Pakistan will have to now win a qualifying tournament to make the cut for next year's World Cup in India.
Pakistan won the last of their three Asia Cup titles way back in 1989 and were not regarded among the pre-tournament favourites in Kuantan, where experts were predicting a South Korea-India final in Kuantan.
But Pakistan conquered India 3-2 in a thrilling battle which was easily the best match of the May 9-16 tournament and then thrashed hosts Malaysia 4-2 to enter the final.
However, their attack faltered when it mattered the most as Pakistan were unable to convert any of their goal-scoring chances against the Koreans in the title clash.
Shahid Ali Khan, the Pakistan coach, believes the pressure is back on his charges as they now have to compete in the World Cup qualifiers this November.
"We were good but a bit unlucky," he told 'The News' from Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. "The boys played their hearts out in the tournament but luck deserted them in the final," added the former Olympian.
"We are now under pressure because winning a World Cup qualifying tournament is not easy," he stressed. "It would have been great had we won the (Asia Cup) final but now we will have to focus on our next goal which is to qualify for the World Cup."
The South Koreans clinched an automatic berth to the 2010 World Cup Finals in New Delhi while the next four teams from the Asia Cup will go into qualifying tournaments, tentatively set to be held in November in three venues - Lille (France) and Auckland (New Zealand) and Dubai (UAE).
Shahid was disappointed over the outcome of the final but was quite satisfied with the performance of his team in the tournament.
"The boys were impressive in most of the games in Kuantan," he said. "But we have underlined a few areas in which there is a need for improvement."
One such area is the short corner conversion department. Pakistan were confident that with the return of their drag flick star Sohail Abbas, they will improve their goal-scoring ratio through penalty corners. But Sohail was unable to click in the tournament, especially in the final when Pakistan were relying heavily on the seasoned defender.
However, Shahid made it clear that Pakistan will have to improve their short corner drills to enable Sohail to regain his magic touch. "We need to work on short corner drills because that is one area that was not up to the mark in Kuantan."