By Alam Zeb Safi – The News
KARACHI: Pakistan football team’s Bahraini coach Mohammed Shamlan on Sunday admitted that the country’s pool in the Asian Games was tough but he was confident that his charges would put in their best at the continental event, to be held in Korea this month.
“You are right. Our group is tough and there may be a big difference between our team and the rivals. But I believe in my boys who have caught rhythm. I hope for the best,” Shamlan told ‘The News’ from Lahore.
Pakistan have been clubbed in Group F with North Korea and China, both having World Cup experience. In 2006 Doha Asian Games, Pakistan lost to North Korea 1-0 after the referee awarded a controversial goal to the winners although it was a clear foul.
Salman Ahmed Sharida of Bahrain was Pakistan’s coach and Mohammad Essa was leading the side at that time.
In other matches of that edition Pakistan lost to Japan 3-2 and conceded their last outing to Syria 2-0 to exit in the first round.
In 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, Pakistan again had to face first round exit. They were crushed by Thailand 6-0 before they held Maldives 0-0. The Green-shirts then lost to Oman 2-0 in their third outing and were sent packing.
Akhtar Mohiuddin was Pakistan’s coach and goalkeeper Jaffar Khan was the captain.
“I always keep a positive approach and want to win in all circumstances. One year after I took charge of Pakistan team in September last year, I now feel that the team has started growing and am happy with the composition and the way it has started clicking,” said Shamlan, a former international defender.
“In my team only Mohammad Ahmed is 24 years old, while the rest of the players are under 22. It’s a young team and I want to prepare it for the future challenges. Besides the Asian Games we have ahead a few vital international assignments next year and I want my charges to particularly impress there,” Shamlan said.
The football event at Incheon Asian Games will begin from September 14, five days ahead of the formal opening of the continental spectacle.
Pakistan will face North Korea in their first outing on September 18 and China on September 22. Two teams from the group will progress to the round of 16.
To a query, Shamlan said that the recent tours of India and Bahrain were fruitful. “We played nicely against India and I am very happy with my boys. And in Bahrain, too, we held their top clubs and that instilled a lot of confidence in the team which will help it in Korea,” the coach said.
He admitted that the midfield looked under pressure in India but was hopeful that the area would click in Korea.
Shamlan threw weight behind his keepers Muzammil Hussain and Saqib Hanif. “Both are of the same stature. You cannot say that there is any big difference between the two as both are doing excellent job these days,” Shamlan said.
“I knew that Muzammil was a good keeper and I also declared him as the best goalie of the last domestic season. He has good techniques, good body and is in fine shape. And so is Saqib, who has now become more mature and I hope they will perform in Korea,” he said.
“Ihsanullah is also a good keeper but he is still young and needs time to grow,” Shamlan said.
He also lauded the step of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to honour the team with cash prizes for winning the two-match series against India in Bangalore last month. “I am thankful to the PFF for the way it supported me in my plan and my whole team by handing it handsome cash prizes. This will encourage the players a lot,” Shamlan said.
Pakistan are currently undergoing training at the City School Ground in Lahore. They will leave for South Korea on September 11. Captain Kaleemullah, Mohammad Adil and Saddam Hussain are expected to return from Kyrgyzstan on Monday (today) to join the camp. The three are playing for Kyrgyzstan’s top club Dordoi Bishkek on loan.