KARACHI: Pakistan were on Thursday clubbed with North Korea and China in Group F as draws for the 17th Asian Games men’s football competitions were unveiled in South Korea.
As many as 29 teams have been placed in eight different pools, the group matches of which will start from September 14, five days ahead of the formal opening of the spectacle in which around 10,000 athletes and 5000 officials will be taking part in the Incheon city of South Korea from September 19 to October 4.
Two leading outfits from each pool will progress to the round of 16, which will be conducted on September 22 and 23.
The quarter-finals will be held on September 26 and the semi-finals on September 30.
The play-off for the third place and final will be conducted on October 3.
In 2006 Doha Asian Games, North Korea, who are ranked 146th, defeated Pakistan 1-0 in the group stage.
Bahrain’s Salman Ahmed Sharida was Pakistan’s coach on that tour.
Former Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi said Pakistan’s group was not that easy. “The group is not that easy as China and North Korea are good teams. China are progressing fast while the youth development programme of North Korea is also quite good, although their football standard is not that solid as that of South Korea,” said Tariq, who coaches KRL.
North Korea have played in the FIFA World Cup in 1966 and 2010. China (ranked 97th) played in the 2002 World Cup jointly hosted by Japan and Korea.
Lutfi said if two teams were to progress then Pakistan had a chance. “The morale of the players is high after beating India at their own backyard. The techniques of both North Korea and China are fairly good but Pakistan can unsettle them if their coach prepares a solid plan to counter the rivals,” Lutfi said.
“If Pakistan keep their rivals outside the area then they will not be that much effective, otherwise it will be a real problem for them,” he pointed out.
Lutfi said that Pakistan’s keeper Muzammil Hussain was in fine form which was good for the team. “Muzammil was brilliant against India and I hope he will carry on his form and will play a good role in Asian Games,” Lutfi said.
“Both China and North Korea play with speed and I remember, in 1986, when I was Pakistan’s coach, China beat us 3-0 in the Quaid-e-Azam Cup in Islamabad,” Tariq said.
Former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa said the team had the potential to impress at the group stage. “Although the standard of both China and North Korea is high but Pakistan are also in fine touch and a victory against India has boosted their morale,” he said.
Essa said North Korea were beatable. “We had put North Korea in deep trouble in the 2006 Doha Asian Games. We were unlucky not to convert five to six open net chances and the only goal we conceded was also a foul but the referee signalled for a goal, which was unfortunate,” said Essa, who captained Pakistan in those Asian Games.
He said Pakistan’s tour of Bahrain would further help Shamlan know about weak points of the team.
Hosts South Korea have been drawn with Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Laos, while holders Japan are grouped with Kuwait, Iraq and Nepal. Four-time winners Iran are in Group H with Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan. India have been put with strong UAE and Jordon.
The age limit for the men’s team is under-23 with three overage players allowed.
After winning the two-match series against India on goal-average, Pakistan were scheduled to fly out of Bangalore for Bahrain on Thursday night to play three practice matches. The Green-shirts will return home on August 31 and after undergoing training for ten days will leave for South Korea on September 11 to participate in the Asian Games.
Draws: Group A: South Korea, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Laos
Group B: Uzbekistan, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Afghanistan
Group C: Oman, Palestine, Singapore, Tajikistan Group D: Japan, Kuwait, Iraq, Nepal
Group E: Thailand, Maldives, Timor-Leste, Indonesia
Group F: North Korea, China, Pakistan
Group G: UAE, India, Jordan
Group H: Iran, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan.