Alam Zeb Safi – The News
KARACHI: As the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has decided to hold the Under-22 Asian Cup Qualifiers early next year, Pakistan football team will now have to focus only on the continent’s biggest show, the Asian Games, which will be held in Incheon, South Korea, from September 19 to October 4.
“Under-22 Asian Cup Qualifiers are not going to be conducted this year as AFC wants to hold it, most probably, in March next year and we now have to prepare the lot for the Asian Games,” Pakistan Football Federation’s (PFF) secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told ‘The News’ from Lahore on Sunday.
“I think AFC will make amendment to its calendar about the qualifiers soon,” Lodhi said. Pakistan footballers are currently undergoing training in Lahore under the supervision of the country’s Bahraini coach Mohammed Shamlan, who took charge the previous year after the PFF had sacked coach Zavisa Milosavljevic of Serbia.
The camp is expected to end on March 18 to release the players for the National Football Challenge Cup, which will be held here at the KMC Stadium and KPT Stadium from March 25 to April 5.
Although the PFF is planning to send the team to Palestine to feature in the Al-Nakba International Football tournament to be held there from May 1-15, Lodhi said the team would need more exposure for the Asian Games.
“We have on our radar Thailand, Qatar, Bahrain and Dubai where our brigade could be sent for training and friendly matches,” he said.
“We cannot make any such arrangement with Afghanistan because most of their players are playing abroad and they cannot play against us except on FIFA days,” Lodhi pointed out.
When asked what commitment he made with Bahrain during his recent tour to the country, Lodhi said: “I had a meeting with the Bahrain Football Association’s (BFA) vice-president Al-Naeemi the other day and we held some discussions on football development. They have already told us that we could send our team there any time. But you know they cannot hold camp for us there and we have to do this,” Lodhi said.
Most probably the task of holding the camp in Bahrain will be given to Shamlan as it will be easy for the former Bahraini defender to finalise such arrangements.
Pakistan’s participation in the Asian Games remains uncertain due to the ongoing conflict between Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) and Pakistan Sports Board (PSB). But Lodhi has no fears. “We had also featured in the 2010 China Asian Games. At that time, too, the things at home were not quite good, so I am confident that we will do this again,” Lodhi hoped.
After the government had refused to sponsor Pakistan football team for the 2010 Asian Games, PFF took a bold step by sending its troops to China using its own resources.
Pakistan might miss key winger Mohammad Adil in the Asian Games as he is serving Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi Bishkek on a one-year loan.
However, star striker Kaleemullah may represent Pakistan in the spectacle if he does not extend his contract with Dordoi.
Currently he is with Dordoi on a five-month loan which will expire at the end of July.
“Both Kaleem and Adil are doubtful for Asian Games. But there are other good players as well and Shamlan can find some players in the National Football Challenge Cup,” Lodhi said.