by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Pakistan will take on hosts Nepal at the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) U15 Championship semi-final on Thursday, and team manager and assistant coach Asghar Anjum feels it has been an inspired campaign for the team.
Anjum is with the squad in Nepal, and he spoke with The Express Tribune as the players returned from the training on Tuesday morning.
Pakistan defeated defending champions India 2-1 in their opening match of Group B on October 25, and went on to outclass Bhutan 4-0 in the group of three to qualify for the semi-finals.
Anjum believes that the team is trying to prove a point with Brazilian coach Jose Portella at the helm of affairs. The opening victory at the tournament, Anjum believes, is what set the tone for the team in the event, as the players are fresh.
“It is a fresh start for us as a nation at this level among junior events,” Anjum told The Express Tribune. “We hadn’t seen our juniors play at international level for the last three years, because of the Pakistan Football Federation’s (PFF) state of affairs, but this is a beginning, and this team is proving that we have the talent. We have to forget that we are coming out of a crisis, our team is new and that there was a gap of three years, we need to see this tournament as an opportunity to revive Pakistan football.”
Last time Pakistan won an international event was in 2011 during the SAFF U16 Championship, where they beat India 2-1 to win the trophy.
While that was seven years ago, Anjum feels that the key is to utilise the emerging talent from the championship.
“We have to make sure that the talented players do not go to waste,” said Anjum. “We have to see it through that they make it to the U19, U21 and all the way to the national team because they have the potential and they need these opportunities.”
Anjum added that the team only got a training camp of 20 days and that alone is an inspirational story to see the squad in the semi-finals.
“We didn’t have much time to train our boys, but they are in the semi-final now. No one thought that they could even win their first match against the defending champions India.
“It is always a clash that we take to our hearts, India-Pakistan, and losing was not an option, since we defeated them, we can see that the Indian team is not as confident as the first day, even Bhutan gave them a tough time, and watching a team like Pakistan defeat India has inspired other sides too,” said Anjum.
He added that the match with Nepal will be tough, but the key is to have the players confident in their abilities. Nepal have finished runners-up twice before and have never won the event.
“It is anybody’s game, we just have to make sure that we give our best, each team will give their all to be in the final so it is going to be tough,” said Anjum.
He said that the team arrived in Nepal five days before the event and the players are accustomed to the climate as well. “It has been an advantage that we got here early,” said Anjum.
On the other hand there has been criticism about the Pakistani players seeming to be older, but Anjum defended the squad. “It is about the physique and they can get caught at this level. I can certainly say that our players are not over aged, they are the same as the players from other participating countries. If they’ll go to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) level too, they will be checked, there is a bone test to testify the age,” said Anjum.