by Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: Well aware of the problems of Pakistan players, their Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira has said he is trying to “fix” them, with less than three weeks to go before their away leg of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against Cambodia.
“Yes, I know these issues and I am trying to fix them,” Nogueira told ‘The News’ in an interview from Manama, Bahrain, on Sunday.
“It’s not easy but I am trying to overcome the problems to prepare an effective side for the qualifiers,” said Sao Paulo-born Nogueira, who will have to gel the home-based and foreign-based footballers with varied fitness levels. Pakistan face Cambodia in the away leg on June 6. The home leg is scheduled on June 11.
Asia’s 12 lowest-ranked sides have been put in the first round. The six winners from here will join 34 teams in the second round to be held later this summer. “You know, we are going to have a mixed training. Some players need more push and some need to have the burden on them reduced. It’s hard but I am happy that players are very much motivated and working really hard to get into the best shape,” Nogueira said.
It is pertinent to mention here that the camp in Bahrain is being held under the banner of FIFA-recognised Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), headed by Faisal Saleh Hayat. Only this team can play in the qualifiers. The Ashfaq Hussain Shah-led PFF has also held a camp in Islamabad but as that federation is not recognised by the world and Asian bodies it cannot field the team in the qualifiers.
It means Pakistan are not going to have all their best players for the qualifiers against Cambodia who have developed marvellously over the years due to engagement of foreign coaches, introduction of professional league and persistent international exposure to its top squad.
Nogueira is aware of his opponents’ strength. “Yes, Cambodia are preparing really well,” said Nogueira, who joined Pakistan team early last year. “Since January this year Cambodia have played six official matches and two friendly matches, which is a serious effort, you know,” the coach said. “But we also have some good players and they can really help the team. We invited 22 players and most of them are here,” he added.
“But we will be waiting for professional defender Zesh Rehman. We are not going to disturb him as he is playing a league for his club in Hong Kong which is trailing third in the Premier League and it means it’s in a good position. But it is confirmed that he will be joining us before our departure for Cambodia,” Nogueira said.
Birmingham-born 35-year-old Zesh plays for Hong Kong Premier League club Southern. Pakistan had been well on track to prepare for the World Cup and Olympic Qualifiers last year. Having featured in the Asian Games and SAFF Cup last year in summer, Pakistan played a FIFA friendly against Palestine in Al-Ram. The Green-shirts then flew to Doha for a camp in December.
But at home, PFF elections were held in which Ashfaq of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was elected as the president. On December 31, 2018, the Ashfaq-led body seized full control of the PFF, including its headquarters and accounts. Because of the presence of two bodies, Pakistan missed Olympics qualifiers in Uzbekistan last March.
Nogueira has also planned to provide a few practice matches to his team against the best clubs of Bahrain. “We are going to play a few practice matches next week against the best clubs,” said Nogueira, who is being assisted by a Brazilian trainer, a goalkeeping coach and four Pakistan-based officials.
Meanwhile, an official of the Islamabad camp told this correspondent that they would not be disbanding the camp. “We will hold the camp till last moment irrespective of what will happen. We have also shortlisted 30 players,” the official said and added that the Ashfaq-led PFF would take strict action against those players and officials who were in Bahrain camp. A joint mission of FIFA and AFC is arriving at Lahore near the end of this month to talk to both groups and find a way forward.
Published in The News, 20 May 2019