By Alam Zeb Safi,
As was feared, just hours after FIFA postponed the 2018 World Cup qualifiers’ second leg tie between Pakistan and Yemen which was pencilled in for Tuesday at Lahore the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) postponed the 2016 AFC Under-23 championship qualifiers Group B matches which were scheduled to be conducted at Lahore from March 23-31.
Like Pak-Yemen tie, the Under-23 event Group B slots will now be held in some other country and the AFC says that the dates and venue will be unveiled after taking input from the member associations.
“A decision was taken to postpone the Under-23 matches which were due to take place in Lahore this month,” an AFC spokesman wrote to this correspondent on Tuesday.
“FIFA also decided to postpone the Pak-Yemen FIFA World Cup qualifiers match due to security concerns and a new date and venue will be agreed later on this week together with all parties,” the spokesman said.
Besides Pakistan, Kuwait, Jordon, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan are part of Group B qualifiers which also serve as 2016 Rio Olympic qualifiers.
An official of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) said the Under-23 event would be held from April 2 to 10, most probably in Kuwait.
Meanwhile, the AFC posted on its website on Tuesday that the slots were postponed. “Group B of the qualifiers for the AFC Under-23 Championship 2016 scheduled to take place in Lahore has been postponed due to security concerns following the recent troubles in the Youhanabad area of the city,” AFC said.
“After closely monitoring the situation the AFC has decided that it is in the best interests of the participating member associations and match officials that they do not travel to Lahore at this time,” it added.
At one stage, it was expected that the Pak-Yemen outing would be a close-door tie but after the visitors refused to play the game, FIFA postponed it.
FIFA spokesman told ‘The News’ that the date and venue of the Pak-Yemen World Cup qualifiers was yet to be decided. “We can confirm that the game has been postponed to another date and venue. When the game will be played, it’s not decided yet,” the spokesman said.
PFF has informed FIFA that Pakistan wants to host the tie against Yemen in Bahrain on March 23.
Pakistan coach Mohammad Shamlan has stopped skipper Hassan Bashir from leaving for Denmark as Pakistan are expected to fly out of Lahore for Bahrain in the next two or three days.
But a bad news for Pakistan is that their experienced Danish defender Nabil Aslam will not be available for the tie because of injury. “Yes, Nabil is injured and will not be part of the team in the second leg,” Shamlan told this correspondent.
Danish striker Mohammad Ali is also not likely to be part of the team as he was scheduled to leave for Denmark on Tuesday night. “Ali works in Denmark in the morning so he is leaving. I will keep contact with him,” said Shmalan.
He made it clear that the country’s star striker Kaleemullah and Mohammad Adil would be part of the outfit for the second leg. After losing their away leg in Doha 3-1, Pakistan will need to beat Yemen 2-0 to make it to the second round.
Yemen were scheduled to leave on Tuesday night.
After the second leg, Kaleemullah would leave for Iceland to play for a few days with Reykjavík FC. “I have not yet got visa; it will be known in a few days. I will play with them for a few days and then the contract may be finalised,” Kaleem said.