Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
LAHORE: Iran coach Mostafa Ghanbarpour said his team will have to be at its best when it takes on Pakistan in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U16 Championship qualifiers today at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore.
Iran got off to a flyer with an emphatic 8-0 win over Sri Lanka in their opening match. However, Ghanbarpour is wary of the home side, who he believes will be their ‘toughest opponents’.
“Pakistan were unlucky in their opening match, so I’ll be telling my players to play wisely against them,” he told The Express Tribune after his team’s hour-long practice session yesterday.
“The match against Pakistan will be our toughest one and our players are working hard to overcome them.”
Ghanbarpour added that Pakistan has improved as a footballing nation over the years.
“I came to Karachi 30 years ago when I was playing with the national team. Then last year I visited Islamabad and now Lahore. There are more football activities now and the improvement is evident.
“We are witnessing a fantastic event here. It’s big for Pakistan and everything has been excellent so far.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan coach Sajjad Mehmood stressed on the importance of an early goal in the match.
“We need to score early,” he said. “Iranian players are physically stronger and taller than ours, but our Bahraini national coach Shamlan Mohamed has been helping the team strategise against them.”
Pakistan midfielder Hassam Mehmood Khan admitted that their defence made mistakes against the UAE and improvement was needed.
“Our defence collapsed in the last match, so now we will try not to repeat the mistakes,” said Khan. “Hopefully we will be able to make a difference.”
Only one team out of Pakistan, Iran, the UAE and Sri Lanka will qualify from Group E for the next round.
The UAE and Sri Lanka will play the second match of the day at 7:00 pm.
Lodhi happy with Pakistan’s performance
The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Secretary, Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi, said that he was impressed with the national side’s performance against the UAE.
“I am very happy,” said Lodhi. “They can win against Iran if they can manage to emulate the same performance as the first-half against the UAE. I am hopeful of a solid performance from our boys.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2013.