By Alam Ze Safi,
KARACHI: Pakistan on Wednesday were clubbed with arch-rivals India as draws were unveiled for the SAFF Cup 2015 which would be held in Kerala, India, from December 23 to January 3.
They will meet in Group A game on the opening day of the eight-nation spectacle at Thiruvananthapuram. Sri Lanka and Nepal are the other teams in Group A.
The defending champions Afghanistan, who beat India 2-0 in 2013 to lift their maiden SAFF Cup in Nepal, have been bracketed with former champions Bangladesh, Maldives and Bhutan.
The group matches will be held till December 28. Two leading sides from each group will play semi-finals which will be conducted on December 31.
The final will be held on January 3.
India lead the winning chart of the biennial event as they won it in 1993, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2009 and 2011.
Bangladesh won it in 2003, Sri Lanka in 1995 and the Maldives in 2008.
Pakistan won the bronze medal in 1997 in Nepal.
It is not yet known who would be at the helm of affairs of football in Pakistan when the SAFF Cup would be held. There are two factions claiming to be the genuine Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). FIFA is expected to announce its decision in this regard during its national associations committee meeting in Zurich on September 21.
A three-member FIFA fact-finding mission last month visited Lahore and held marathon meetings with both the parties.
FIFA will decide the matter in the light of the report of the fact-finding mission.
If the issue is not resolved in time Pakistan’s preparation for the SAFF Cup will certainly be affected.
Former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa says there are issues which should be resolved as soon as possible. “There have been no activities for the last four months. The league status is also not yet confirmed because of the infighting,” he told ‘The News’. “It is also not known whether Pakistan will appear in the India event,” said the play-maker who leads reigning champions K-Electric in the Premier League.
“Football should not suffer because of politics. The activities should not be stopped. Pakistan did not feature in the AFC Under-16 and Under-19 championships this year because of this issue. It really deprived one generation of an opportunity to showcase its talent. It’s a huge loss as next time these youngsters will not be eligible to feature in these events because of age factors,” Essa pointed out.
He said Pakistan’s group in the SAFF Cup was tough. “No doubt, Pakistan are in tough group. India and Nepal are hard opponents,” Essa said.
If the country’s participation in the SAFF Cup is ensured, Pakistan will still be facing problem as they will have to play under a local coach.
Pakistan’s Bahraini coach Mohammad Shamlan quit in July after the expiry of his two-year contract.
Essa said if he was appointed coach for the SAFF Cup Pakistan would spring a surprise. “Yes, I am ready for the challenge. I am confident we could produce the best result,” said Essa, a qualified coach.
Meanwhile, the secretary of India’s football governing body (AIFF) Kushal Das said that the highlight of Group A certainly would be the India-Pakistan fixture. “The SAFF is certainly a very important tournament in the South Asian region and is becoming more and more competitive,” Das said.
Fixtures: Dec 23: Nepal v Sri Lanka, India v Pakistan, Dec 24: Maldives v Bhutan, Afghanistan v Bangladesh, Dec 25: Pakistan v Nepal, Sri Lanka v India, Dec 26: Bangladesh v Maldives, Bhutan v Afghanistan, Dec 27: Sri Lanka v Pakistan, India v Nepal, Dec 28: Bhutan v Bangladesh, Afghanistan v Maldives.
Dec 29 and 30: Rest days.
Dec 31: semi-finals.
Jan 3: Final.