By Umaid Wasim (DAWN)
KARACHI, May 27: The South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) on Monday brought forward its marquee SAFF Championship by two weeks in order to avoid the tournament being affected by a clash of dates with the AFC President’s Cup and the AFC Cup.
The tournament will now be held from Sept 1 to 11 in Kathmandu after requests made to South Asia’s football governing body by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA).
The tournament was initially scheduled to be held from Sept 18 to 30 but those dates clashed with the participation of Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) and Nepal Super League title-holders Laxmi Bank Three Star FC in the second stage of the AFC President’s Cup which will be played from Sept 23 to 29.
Players from KRL and Three Star FC form the bulk of Pakistan and Nepal’s national teams respectively.
“We have eight players in the national side who play for KRL so it would’ve been a disruption for us if the President’s Cup and SAFF Championship was to be held simultaneously,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn on Monday.
“In order to avoid that, we, along with ANFA, first contacted the AFC to change the dates of the President’s Cup but since they refused to budge we decided to go to SAFF with the issue and they helped us sort out that issue.”
The move will allow players of KRL and Three Star FC to concentrate on their commitments in Asia’s third-tier club tournament.
“I think it will be beneficial for the KRL players as the SAFF Championship will offer them high-level competition ahead of the President’s Cup,” Lodhi opined.
KRL head coach Tariq Lutfi, however, wasn’t too pleased with the decision; citing fixture congestion will take its toll on his players.
“There will be too little time for us to prepare for the President’s Cup,” Lutfi told Dawn on Monday. “And therefore we wouldn’t be able to hold an effective training camp for the event.”
Lutfi said that it would’ve been better for his side if the SAFF Championship had been shifted to a later date.
“After Ramazan in August, the PPFL will start and fixtures come thick and fast in the league and so do the injuries,” he said. “You cannot expect the players to consistently perform at the same level all the time.
“Then, of course, the national team will hold its camp for the SAFF Championship so all that time our players won’t be with us and once they are back from national duty there would hardly be time for us to prepare.”
Lutfi cited his side’s lacklustre performance in the recently-concluded National Challenge Cup where they failed to defend their title as an example.
“We came back from a sensational campaign in the first round of the President’s Cup and directly to the Challenge Cup in Bahawalpur and that affected both out performance and our morale so it remains to be seen whether the change in the dates of the SAFF Championship benefits us or the national team.”
The PFF, meanwhile, is looking towards the FIFA Congress in Mauritius which starts from May 31 as a chance to arrange some friendlies for the national team ahead of the SAFF Championship.
“Our delegation will be leaving on Tuesday for Mautitius and hopefully we’ll be able to talk to other national federations there,” Lodhi said.
Pakistan, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan will vie for honours in the tenth edition of the SAFF Championship which has historically been dominated by India who have won the event six times.