by Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: In order to get some practice matches ahead of the Asian Games, Pakistan football team is expected to tour Bahrain next month, sources told ‘The News’ on Monday.
Senior officials of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) are expected to hold meetings with football governing bodies of Bahrain and other nations during FIFA World Cup which will explode into action in Moscow from June 14.
The PFF President Faisal Saleh Hayat, Secretary General Col Ahmed Yar Lodhi and PFF Congress member Robina Irfan will grace the opening ceremony of the World Cup. According to a PFF official, if the tour is arranged then Pakistan will go to Bahrain in mid-July for a few matches.
“Bahrain tour is very much possible,” he said. He added that Bahrain has some good clubs and playing with them will enable Pakistan to have good match practice ahead of the Asian Games slated to be held in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2.
The Asian Games draws are yet to be unveiled. As per rules of the continental event, the participating nations may field the under-23 team, along with three senior players, in football competitions which will begin from August 14 in four different cities of Indonesia.
This will be the biggest football event in the history of the Asian Games as 32 teams will be vying for the title. The outfits will be bracketed in eight groups of four teams each. The leading side from each group will progress to the quarter-finals.
Sources said that besides arranging a tour of Bahrain, the PFF is also trying to finalise a deal with any other country so that some more matches could be given to the brigade.“You know training tours are very important as Pakistan have not played international football during the last three years,” he said.
Soon after the Asian Games, Pakistan will move to Bangladesh to feature in the SAFF Cup which will be held from September 4-15.
In the SAFF Cup, Pakistan have been clubbed in Group A with the former winners and hosts Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The green-shirts will begin the title quest with their opener against Nepal on September 4. This will be followed by their encounter against Bangladesh on September 6 and Bhutan on September 8.
The seven-time winners and defending champions India are in Group B with former winners Sri Lanka and Maldives. Afghanistan, a former SAFF member and 2013 edition’s champion, has joined Central Asian Football Federation (CAFF) and is not part of the SAFF event this time.
The 30-member team will be taken abroad for training also including some senior players who will be used in the SAFF Cup.“The senior players need practice along with the Asian Games side as SAFF Cup is also important”, he added.
Meanwhile, the first phase of Pakistan team training was concluded at Lahore on Monday. The camp, carrying 60 players, will resume from June 20 after a week’s break for Eid-ul-Fitr. On Monday, some routine warm-up was done by the players, a team source said.
Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira and Brazilian trainer Jose Portella are conducting the camp. Team sources said that the trainer has done a great job during the first phase and has been able to improve the fitness level of the players who were lying rusty due to a long lay-off because of the conflict between PFF and its rival group.
The source said that Nogueira has also done good work on technical and tactical sides. Nogueira is also trying to make the players mentally strong.“I am also working on that side as you know decision making is very important. The players must be capable to do so at crucial stages on the pitch,” Nogueira told this correspondent the other day.
The team management plans to reduce the strength of the players in the camp to 40 for the next phase which will also see some foreign-based players. There is more chance that Denmark-based goalie Yousuf Butt will be included in the squad as one of the three senior players in the lot for the Asian Games.
Denmark-based striker Mohammad Ali and Pakistan’s Danish captain Hassan Bashir are scheduled to join the camp in the second phase. Denmark-based midfielder Adnan Mohammad and former Pakistan’s captain and defender Zeeshan Rehman, who plays for Hong Kong’s club Southern, are expected to become part of the SAFF Cup squad. Adnan wanted to arrive in Pakistan on June 10 but decided against that due to some issue.
Some of the players, who would be dropped from the camp, may become part of Pakistan’s Under-22 team which will feature in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-22 Championship Qualifiers in January next year, the source revealed. A National Under-22 Championship is being planned in November-December to form team for the qualifiers.