Alam Zeb Safi, The News
KARACHI: National footballers will re-assemble in Lahore on Friday (today) for their final preparatory phase ahead of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup Qualifiers to be held in Kyrgyzstan next month.
Although the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is yet to officially unveil the list of the probables for the camp, ‘The News’ has learnt that 26 players have been invited for the purpose who will report on Friday and the camp will formally kick off at the Punjab Stadium on Saturday (tomorrow) under coach Zavisa Milosavljevic.
The probbales include a bunch of foreign-based players, some of whom represented the country on the tours of Nepal and Maldives recently.
Denmark-based striker Hasan Bashir, defender Yaqoob Butt, his brother and gloveman Yousuf Butt and England-based left-back Shabbir Khan were part of the recent tours, while Hong Kong-based experienced defender Zeeshan Rehman, England-based midfielders Adnan Ahmed and Amjad Iqbal and Denmark-based striker Mohammad Ali’s names are also included in the list. Zavisa Milosavljevic is communicating with these foreign-based players, a source close to these players said.
Mohammad Ali had got his Pakistani passport and would be available for the vital assignment, an official of the PFF said. A PFF official said that the federation would like the foreign-based players to join the camp a week or ten days before the assignment. “I think they will be in the camp ten days before the event,” the official said.
Due to an stringent media policy of the PFF, Zavisa did not disclose much about the camp when this correspondent contacted him on phone. “I cannot comment as the PFF will officially release the names of the probables on Monday,” Zavisa said.
It seems the federation wants to release the names of players after the camp has begun. Sources said that the country’s dashing striker Mohammad Rasool, who had not attended the camp for the tours of Nepal and Maldives due to a knee injury, has once again not been invited. And goalkeeper Muzammil Hussain has been preferred over lanky Jehangir Khan who had done a glorious job for Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) in the Premier League and also done well against Singapore in the friendly. Pakistan have been bracketed with the hosts Kyrgyzstan, former champions Tajikistan and Macau in the qualifiers which will be held in Dolen Omurzakov Stadium, Bishkek, from March 17 to 21.
Pakistan will face Tajikistan in their opener on March 17, followed by their matches against Kyrgyzstan on March 19 and Macau on March 21. One team from the pool will qualify for the main round to be held next year. Before the qualifiers, the PFF plans to organise a couple of more international matches for the team. “We want to arrange a couple of matches for the team before the qualifiers and we have contacted several countries,” Col Lodhi said. “A tour to Dubai is also possible,” a source said.
The qualifiers would be a real challenge for Zavisa and if he failed to deliver he could be sacked and replaced by former Pakistan coach Salman Ahmed Sharida from Bahrain, sources said.