by Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: Pakistan football team technical coordinator and former head coach Shehzad Anwar on Thursday said he expected the team to catch rhythm ahead of SAFF Cup, which will be held from September 4-15 in Bangladesh.
“The experience of playing a few practice matches on foreign soil which Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is trying to arrange and group matches in Asian Games in Indonesia will help the team to gain momentum ahead of SAFF Cup,” Shehzad told ‘The News’ in an interview from Lahore.
However, he was quick to add that inactivity for three years had damaged the country’s football and the team needed great support. “International exposure for the team at this stage is very important,” said Shehzad, an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Pro Licence holder.
In SAFF Cup, Pakistan have been clubbed in Group A with hosts and former winners Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Pakistan will play their first match against Nepal on September 4. They will play against Bangladesh on September 6 and Bhutan on September 8.
India are in Group B with former champions Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Two teams from each group will progress to the semi-finals.“Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan remained engaged all these three years, playing international circuit, while our players missed international exposure during the same time which will matter a lot,” said Shehzad, who was head coach of Pakistan team in 2013 SAFF Cup in Nepal.
“Bangladesh played against Australia, Kyrgyzstan, Jordan and Tajikistan in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Bhutan progressed to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers after beating Sri Lanka in the play-off. Nepal featured in the AFC Solidarity Cup — all this while Pakistan remained out. These things matter, but I still believe that the way we are preparing the side Pakistan will put in their best in Bangladesh,” Shehzad said.
In SAFF Cup history, Pakistan have faced Bangladesh six times since the inaugural edition in 1993. The Green-shirts have won two games, lost two and two were drawn. Pakistan’s record against Nepal in SAFF Cup is not good. The two nations have faced each other five times in the tournament. Pakistan lost two games, won just one and three matches ended in a draw.
Pakistan faced Bhutan once in the event. It was in 2009 Dhaka SAFF Cup when the then Austrian coach George Kottan led Pakistan to a crushing 7-0 win over the then tournament minnows Bhutan.
The national camp is in operation in Lahore under Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira.
The camp, which had been started on May 25, will stop for Eid-ul-Fitr from June 12 to 19.India are the defending champions of SAFF Cup. The Bangabandhu National Stadium will host all the matches in September with the top-two teams from each group qualifying for the semis-finals.
Afghanistan is not competing this year, having joined the Central Asian Football Association.Besides India’s seven SAFF Cup titles, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka have won once each.
Foreign-based players will join the camp around two months ahead of SAFF Cup. Birmingham-born full-back Zeeshan Rehman, Denmark-based Pakistan’s captain Hassan Bashir, striker Mohammad Ali and goalkeeper Yousuf Butt are expected to join the camp in early July.
Zeeshan, who plays for Hong Kong club Southern, has been sent the programme by the PFF. Danish Superliga midfielder Adnan Mohammad has changed his plans of arriving in Pakistan on June 10.The 21-year-old would inform the PFF about his new plan soon. He is expected to change his club. He will be available for the SAFF Cup, this correspondent learnt on Thursday.