KARACHI: An initial squad list has been submitted by Pakistan to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for next month’s 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup first-round qualifier against Cambodia although there remains doubt how the team will actually play.
The 50-man list has been submitted to Asia’s football governing body by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) recognised by it, which is led by Faisal Saleh Hayat. Locally, however, the PFF body led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah — which came into power following an election ordered by the Supreme Court in December last year — is considered the legitimate one.
The Ashfaq-led body is holding a training camp for the national team at the Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad which began on Monday and is slated to run till June 3, three days before Pakistan are due to play Cambodia away in the first leg. With Ashfaq not recognised by the AFC, there remains doubt over how he would be able to enter the team.
“All squads have been received by the deadline,” an AFC spokesperson told Dawn on Monday, referring to the lists from Asia’s worst-ranked 12 teams which will be part of the first round of the qualifiers. “The deadline for the final squad is the day before the match but an initial squad of 50 has to be submitted one month before the games.”
It remains unclear over how the Hayat-led faction will field the team considering it will be unable to hold a training camp in the country. Rumours are abound that it was planning to hold a camp in Qatar before flying the team directly from there to Phnom Penh for the first leg before hosting Cambodia in the country that will host the 2022 World Cup in the return.
Before being ousted from the office, the Hayat faction had appointed Brazilian Jose Antonio Nogueira as the national team head-coach. Some five national team players, strangely, are in Brazil for a player support programme on the recommendation of Nogueira. The programme — organised by Gold Sports Brasil and Sitrefesp (Union of Football coaches of Sao Paulo State) — has been running from April 12 and is due to end on June 12, according to a letter seen by Dawn.
Ashfaq’s PFF, meanwhile, has appointed Tariq Lutfi as the national team head coach. Lutfi, one of the most decorated local coaches, has been in-charge of the team in the past and said on Monday evening that so far 15 of the 32 players called up had arrived at the training camp in which practice sessions are being held at night due to the month of Ramadan.
“There is uncertainty in the minds of the players,” Lutfi told Dawn. “Some have arrived, others are on their way and by tonight or tomorrow we will have a clearer picture but there remains no doubt that the legitimate PFF in the country is the one led by Ashfaq.
The top players who have arrived at the camp, Lutfi informed, include Pakistan captain Saddam Hussain, goalkeeper Saqib Hanif and striker Jadeed Khan Pathan.
ASHFAQ BACKS SARDAR
Away from the pitch, Ashfaq has been dealing with a situation involving PFF vice-president Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, who heads the Punjab Football Association (PFA).
On Saturday, a group of PFA members had said they had banned Sardar Naveed after an extraordinary congress of the body but Ashfaq called that meeting “fake and illegal” while terming it a ploy by Hayat to manipulate the situation ahead of the visit by the joint FIFA/AFC fact-finding mission later this month.
The mission is due to arrive in Pakistan on May 28-29 where it will meet officials from both PFF factions and hopefully resolve the crisis in Pakistan football.
“The PFF president turns down the decisions made in a recent meeting consisting of few PFA members which did not even follow the constitutional requirements of PFF,” said a news release. “He described the act as an attempt to manipulate the situation ahead of the visit of FIFA/AFC Fact finding mission.”
Ashfaq is quoted as saying in the news release that those close to Hayat “are now trying to mislead the football family by false and illegal self-claimed notifications which actually hold no legal value” and that he had asked Sardar Naveed “to take appropriate disciplinary action for violating the statutes of PFF against the members involved in this fiasco”.
Sardar, who was elected in an election held on the orders of the Supreme Court in May last year, has claimed that the members of the PFA hold no positions as their four-year terms had expired in March this year. Ashfaq added that fresh elections of the district football associations in the province will now be held.