By Alam Zeb Safi,
KARACHI: Pakistan football team coach Mohammad Shamlan on Sunday said that his charges are capable of giving surprising result in the 2016 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Championship qualifiers Group B which will be held in Al Qattara Stadium in Al-Ain, UAE, from May 16 to 24.
“I have not set any extraordinary target but realistically I can say if my players convert chances I am confident we will spring some surprise in the qualifiers,” Shamlan told ‘The News’ in a detailed chat from Lahore.
“No doubt some of the teams in our group like Jordon and Kuwait are tough but we also have a strong side as we beat Afghanistan recently with our junior players when some of our experienced players like Kaleemullah were not playing,” the coach said.
Pakistan will kick-start their preparation for the qualifiers at Lahore on Monday (today).
“We will do practice tomorrow in the evening session,” said Shamlan, also a former Bahraini defender.
“We have invited 29 players to the camp, while nine Under-19 players will also join them. The juniors are not registered for the qualifiers but we have invited them in order to groom them for the future,” he said.
However, he made it clear that the frontline gloveman Muzammil Hussain will not be part of the touring party.
“Muzammil had injured his hand in Pakistan’s second leg game of the World Cup qualifiers against Yemen in Manama and he is yet to recover. But we still have good keepers in the shape of Saqib Hanif and Ihsanullah and I hope they will live up to the expectations,” Shamlan conceded.
Besides the keepers, Pakistan will have the support of a bunch of such players for the Al-Ain assignment who were also part of the country’s senior team for the World Cup qualifiers against Yemen including Sadullah, Mohammad Bilal, Saqib Hanif, Mohammad Shahbaz, Saddam Hussain, Mansoor Khan and Mohammad Riaz.
However, striker Sadullah will not be able to join the camp because he is playing in the Maldives league.
“I am in contact with Sadullah and he will surely be part of our squad. But he will join us in Al-Ain because of his commitment in Maldives,” Shamlan said.
In the qualifiers, Kuwait, Pakistan, Jordon, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan will be featuring.
Shamlan said they would like to proceed to Al-Ain a week before the start of the competitions.
“I want to see my team in Al-Ain at least a week before the event. And if we are able to get a couple of practice matches against the local clubs in the UAE it would help us,” the coach said.
Shamlan is also mulling over the holding of camp in Karachi because its weather is quite similar to the UAE.
The qualifiers were earlier scheduled to be held in Lahore from March 23 to 31 but were shifted to UAE following suicide attacks on churches at the Youhanabad area of Punjab capital.
The incident had also forced FIFA to shift the World Cup qualifiers tie between Pakistan and Yemen to Manama, Bahrain.
Pakistan will start their Under-23 Championship qualifiers journey with the game against Turkmenistan on May 16. This will be followed by their match against Jordon on May 18, Kuwait on May 20 and Kyrgyzstan on May 24.
The competitions of the other groups have already been completed.
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Syria, Australia, DPR Korea, Korea Republic, Japan and China have made it to the next year’s 16-team tournament proper to be hosted by Qatar. Besides, group winners, five best second-placed sides will also make it to the tournament proper.
After the first round exit from the World Cup qualifiers, the Under-23 event will be a testing time for Pakistan.
This might be the last event for Mohammad Shamlan as Pakistan’s coach as he has decided to quit after the expiry of his two-year contract on July 30.
The 2016 AFC Under-23 Championship also serves as qualifiers for the 2016 Rio Olympics, with the top three teams qualifying.