By Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
KARACHI: Pakistan are looking to claim the top spot in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship qualifiers scheduled to begin in Al-Ain, UAE on May 16 despite losing home advantage.
The qualifiers were initially supposed to take place in Lahore in March but due to the unrest in the city after the church bomb blasts, the AFC was forced to change the venue and schedule of the event.
However, the national team’s assistant coach Hassan Baloch says Pakistan are going into the qualifiers with confidence and an all-out approach adding that Saadullah Khan, who was playing for a Maldives club, also joined the training camp on Friday.
“We are currently training and the players are in good shape,” the coach told The Express Tribune. “We are playing practice matches in Bahria Town, Lahore in hopes of bringing our best game into the competition. There is no team that is lesser than us, but we feel that it will not be a difficult task to defeat our opponents.”
The men in green, who will depart for Al-Ain on May 13, are scheduled to face Jordan in their first match on May 16 at the Al Qattara Stadium.
Pakistan are ranked lowest in Group B at 173 in the FIFA rankings, with Jordan on 103, Kuwait on 126 and Kyrgyzstan on 153. Turkmenistan, who were also a part of the group, have withdrawn from the competition according to the AFC website.
However, Baloch said that the team’s task has not gotten any easier with Turkmenistan’s decision, whereas Kuwait will be the toughest side to defeat. “I don’t think it will be easy for us because our task will still be to finish among the top two sides in order to qualify for the main round.
“It’s still the same amount of training and determination required from us. One team’s withdrawal doesn’t mean anything; we also have Jordan to beat, whom we lost against back in 2013 in Palestine.”
The AFC U23 Championship will feature 16 teams in the main round next year in Qatar, while the top three sides will book their place in the 2016 Rio Olympics football event.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2015.