Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: Pakistan football team’s coach Zavisa Milosavljevic said on Sunday that a couple of foreign tours helped him reach very close to finalising the final squad for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup qualifiers to be held in March in Kyrgyzstan.
“The national team’s tours of Nepal and Maldives were successful and I am very close to decide and pick the final group of players for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers,” Zaivsa told ‘The News’ in an interview.
He said Pakistan were a fighting side and could produce good results in Kyrgyzstan if he were able to freely make his plan. “We are already a fighting lot and if I was given an open hand in finalising my plan then we will be able to get good results in the qualifiers,” said the Serbian, who has been working as Pakistan coach since November 2011.
During the recent tours of Nepal and the Maldives, Pakistan made a clean sweep in the two-match series against Nepal in Kathmandu, winning both the games with an identical 1-0 margin.
But the Greenshirts lost the two-match series to Maldives 1-0. They held the hosts to a 1-1 draw in the first match, but lost the second and final match 3-0 at the National Stadium in Male.
Zavisa expects that the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) would arrange a couple of more international matches ahead of the qualifiers. “It will be a very positive step if we are able to get a couple of more matches before our key assignment and I expect that the PFF will do the same,” said Zavisa.
As many as 26 players have been invited for the final phase of the preparatory camp which starts on February 23. The players will report on February 22.
Zavisa said the players based abroad would join the camp later, if released by their clubs.
Denmark-based strikers Hasan Bashir, full-back Yaqoob Butt and gloveman Yousuf Butt and England-based left-back Shabbir Khan played during the recent tours.
‘The News’ has learnt that Hong Kong-based experienced defender Zeeshan Rehman, England-based midfielder Adnan Ahmed and Denmark-based striker Mohammad Ali are expected to join the team for the qualifiers, for which Pakistan have been bracketed in Group B with hosts Kyrgyzstan, former champions Tajikistan and Macau.
The matches will be held on March 17, 19 and 21. One team from the pool will advance to the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.
Zavisa threw weight behind the country’s premier goalkeeper and skipper Jaffar Khan, saying he was the top choice for the qualifiers as the frontline goalie. “Definitely, Jaffar is a strong and confident goalkeeper and he will be our top choice for the qualifiers,” said Zavisa.
“Saqib Hanif and Yousuf Butt are of the same level. We will have to pick three glovemen in the squad and it is not yet clear what will be our final decision about the three keepers,” Zavisa said.
The coach said Pakistan topped Asia in February in terms of improvement in the world rankings. “You know Pakistan improved 19 places in the world rankings this month, the only team to make so much improvement in a month time,” the Serbian said.
“We are fourth in South Asia with 170 world rankings, just four places down from number two India (167) and one from number three Bangladesh (169) while Maldives are on top in the belt with 159,” said the coach proudly. “We scored goal against Maldives for the first time since 1991,” Zavisa said. Zavisa said a few of his players had injuries during the tour, but they would recover quickly
Alam Zeb Safi