Alam Zeb Safi [The News]
KARACHI: After lifting the SAFF Championship title in Kathmandu last month, Pakistan colts will now fly out of Lahore for Kuwait on Saturday (tomorrow) to feature in relatively tough Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-16 Championship 2012 qualifiers to be held in Kuwait City from September 12-22.
Pakistan have been placed in Group B with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, Kuwait, Maldives and Afghanistan. All the matches of the group will be played at the Mohammed Al Hamad Stadium and Sabah Al Salem Stadium.
Pakistan have retained the same 22-man squad that won the inaugural SAFF Under16 Championship after beating arch-rivals India 2-1 in the final at the Dashrath Rangasala Stadium in Kathmandu early last month.
Lyari-born defender Muneer Aftab will lead the side while Malik Dilshad Ahmed will serve as his deputy.
Pakistan will open their campaign on September 12 with the match against Maldives, followed by their games against Kuwait on September 14, UAE on September 17, Afghanistan on September 19 and against Yemen on September 22. Two teams from the group will make the cut for tournament proper which will be held next year.
Overall 39 teams from zones West (22 teams) and East (17) have been bracketed in seven different pools. Top two teams from each of the groups and the best third-placed team from West and East zone will make it to the next year’s tournament.
Afghanistan and Maldives are beatable but Pakistan will also have to face some tough teams like UAE, Yemen and Kuwait in their group. However, coach Sajjad Mehmood is confident that his team will overcome all the hurdles and will make it to the next year’s tournament proper.
“We have worked hard during training sessions in Lahore and my charges are ready to take up the challenge and I am very much confident that we will beat even the toughest of teams like UAE, Kuwait and Yemen on the tour and will qualify for the main event next year,” Sajjad said.
During SAFF Championship, Pakistan’s defence looked a bit weak but Sajjad said that he has worked over it and now this area looks very much improved.
“Yes, we had some problems in our defence in Kathmandu but I think we have improved a lot in that area and I am hopeful that the defence line is now in perfect shape and will play according to the expectations,” Sajjad added.
“The striking ability of our frontline has also improved a lot. In Nepal we had scored goals at crucial times but the strike rate of the front-runners overall was not that high. The other day we beat Lahore Under19 team 4-1 in practice match which shows we have improved in that area and believe that the strikers will feel their responsibility and will perform up to the expectations in Kuwait,” he hoped.
After receiving encouragement from the PFF in terms of cash prizes after the SAFF Cup victory, the morale of the boys is now really high and they are even more enthusiastic to perform on the vital tour.
Squad: Malik Dilshad Ahmed (vice-captain), Usman Khan, Syed Hassan Mujtaba, Muhammad Boota (all goalkeepers), Shahbaz Masih, Rashid Noor, Babar Ali, Tanzeel Ashfaq, Muneer Aftab (captain), Muhammad Basit Amin (all defenders), Bilal Asghar, Muhammad Sohail, Raza Ali, Haider Ali, Muhammad Zeeshan, Sanaullah, Yawar (all midfielders), Ashfaq Uddin, Muhammad Bilal, Zain-ul-Aabdeen, Sher Ali, Mansoor (Strikers), Sajjad Mahmood (coach), Muhammad Hassan Baloch (manager/assistant coach), Nouman Ibrahim (goalkeeping coach), Dr Kamran Mehdi (physiotherapist), Fazal-ur-Rehman (media manager).