by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Pakistan’s absence at this year’s South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in Kerala will be sorely felt, according to the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) officials.
Pakistan withdrew from the tournament last month due to lack of resources to hold a camp for the national team.
The game in general has suffered heavily due to the on-going power struggle between the two factions of the Pakistan Football Federation officials.
Pakistan also missed the SAFF U16 and the Asian Football Confederation U19 Championships earlier this year due to the same reasons.
“We’ll definitely miss them in this major regional event,” AIFF’s I-League — India’s domestic league — CEO Susando Dhar told The Express Tribune. “Everyone had marked December 23 on their calendars because Pakistan and India were to play the opening match against each other, and that is always a major attraction for the audience.”
The SAFF Championship will now feature hosts India, Nepal and Sri Lanka in Group A, while defending champions Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh are slotted in Group B.
Pakistan midfielder Saadullah, who was named as one of the players to watch out for prior to Pakistan’s withdrawal, said the country will be left behind in regional competitions.
“It’s disappointing,” said Saad. “The level of the competition would’ve been different if we were playing. Most of the players in our team were playing abroad, so I believe we would’ve been a better side than Sri Lanka or Bangladesh.”
The Pishin-based player predicted that in Pakistan’s absence, he sees Afghanistan and India reaching the final, while he feels Maldives — where he plays for BG Sports FC — also have a good chance.