by Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: Pakistan’s Brazilian football coach Jose Antonio Nogueira on Wednesday said that he had great regard for other teams in Pakistan’s group but his outfit would give tough time to them in the 18th Asian Games, men’s football event slated to be held in Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang from August 14 to September 1.
“Certainly I have respect for teams in our group but Pakistan will fight hard against them,” Nogueira told ‘The News’ in an interview hours after Pakistan team returned to Lahore from a two-week tour of Bahrain.
However, he was quick to add that Japan’s was a strong side and so was Vietnam. “Japan is a strong side. Vietnam were nowhere four years ago but now they have improved a lot. Pakistan missed last few years and we have now started moving. It will take time,” the coach said.Pakistan played four matches on their Bahrain tour against clubs of the host country.
They won two, lost one, and one ended in a goalless draw.The tour was meant to prepare for this month’s Asian Games and next month’s SAFF Cup. The SAFF Cup will be held in Dhaka from September 4-15.Pakistan have been placed in Group D with Japan, Vietnam and Nepal.
Initially, 24 teams were scheduled to contest in the Asiad but after a re-draw, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Palestine were added to the event. It emerged on Wednesday that Iraq had pulled out of the event, which left only three teams in Group C: China, Timor Leste and Syria.
Pakistan will begin their Asian Games journey with a match against Vietnam on August 14, followed by outings against Japan on August 16 and Nepal on August 19.Two teams from six groups and four best-third placed sides will make it to the round of 16.
Each country is allowed to have three seniors with its under-23 squad. Nogueira said that Bahrain’s tour was highly productive. “The tour played a key role in preparation. We now know which player should play at which place,” the coach said.
He added the preparation was never complete. “It’s just the start. The Asian Games will help the team prepare for the SAFF Cup. Fifty percent of the players of the Asian Games squad will also be part of the SAFF Cup squad,” Nogueira said.
The coach was happy to have a handful of Denmark-based players in his squad. “I am very happy to have Hassan Bashir, Mohammad Ali and goalkeeper Yousuf Butt who are all fairly good,” Nogueira said.
Denmark-based winger Adnan Mohammad, who plays in Danish Superliga, will also join the team ahead of the SAFF and so will do England-born defender Zesh Rehman, who plays for Hong Kong’s Southern club.
Soon after returning to Lahore from Bahrain on Wednesday Pakistan team underwent training. In the SAFF Cup, Pakistan have been clubbed in Group A with former champions Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.