by Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: Pakistan on Thursday were drawn in Group D with strong Japan, Vietnam and Nepal as the men’s football event draws for the 18th Asian Games were unveiled at Jakarta, Indonesia.
As many as 24 nations are set to contest for the crown.
The teams have been bracketed in six groups of four teams each.
The top two teams from each group and four best-third placed sides would progress to the quarter-finals. South Korea will defend the title.
The football competitions will be held in Jakarta and Palembang from August 14 to September 1.
India are not competing. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has dropped its football team, which is 14th ranked in Asia, on the ground that the team had no chance of winning a medal in the quadrennial event.
All India Football Federation (AIFF) termed the decision “myopic”.
It will be a big test for Pakistan who are returning to international football after a gap of three years.
A senior official of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) said Japan were strong but Pakistan had the ability to beat Nepal and Vietnam.
“Our team will be featuring in international circuit after three years. Japan are strong but Pakistan can beat Vietnam and Nepal,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Lodhi told ‘The News’.
Former Pakistan captain and current assistant coach Mohammad Essa said Pakistan’s group was tough. “Our group is tough,” Essa told ‘The News’ from Lahore.
“We seek to qualify for the quarter-finals but as you know we will be playing in international circuit after three years so there might be problems,” Essa said.
“Japan are tougher than the others. Vietnam are also good,” the former play-maker said. Pakistan and Japan, whose senior side has appeared in six consecutive World Cups, including the one going on in Russia, last met in 2006 Doha Asian Games. Japan beat the Green-shirts 3-2 in that match after an absorbing contest.
Essa was Pakistan’s captain in 2006 Doha Games. Bahrain’s Salman Sharida was Pakistan’s coach.
In Jakarta-Palembang Asiad, each nation will field its under-23 players, along with three seniors.
Pakistan have been preparing at Lahore since May 25 for the quadrennial event under the supervision of Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira whose services were hired soon after courts and FIFA restored PFF early this year.
Brazilian trainer Jose Portella is in the support staff of Nogueira. Pakistan will tour Bahrain in the middle of next month to play a few practice matches ahead of the Asian Games.
The PFF is trying to manage another foreign tour for its side which will also feature in the SAFF Championship to be held in Bangladesh from September 4-15.
Interestingly, Nepal and Pakistan have been clubbed in the same group in SAFF Championship too.
In the last Asian Games held in Incheon in 2014, North Korea beat Pakistan 2-0 and the Green-shirts then lost to China 0-1.
Group A: Indonesia, Hong Kong, Laos, Chinese Taipei
Group B: Thailand, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Qatar
Group C: Iraq, China PR, Timor-Leste, Syria
Group D: Japan, Vietnam, Pakistan and Nepal
Group E: Korea Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Bahrain
Group F: DPR Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Myanmar