PFF plans Thai trip ahead of Olympic qualifier

By Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: In a bid to make better preparations for the Olympic qualifiers, the Pakistan football team will tour Thailand in the first week of February, a top official of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) said on Wednesday.

“We have an invitation from Thailand and we are planning a tour there in February before leaving for Kuala Lumpur to face Malaysia in the away leg of the first round of the Olympic Qualifiers on February23,” the PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told ‘The News’.

“During the two-week tour, Pakistan will play four matches including one against Thailand national team and three against the local clubs,” Lodhi revealed.

The return leg of the Olympic Qualifiers between Pakistan and Malaysia will be held at either Lahore or Karachi on March 9.

Meanwhile, another senior official of the PFF confided to ‘The News’ on condition of anonymity that the camp for the qualifiers will kick off at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore most probably in the second week of January.

“We plan to give a week-long rest to the players at the end of the Pakistan Premier Premier League and then probably the camp will start in the second week of January,” the official said.

Players born on January 1, 1989 and after will be eligible to play in the qualifiers. Three over-age players could also be included in the squad as per rules.

The authorities have completed the paper work for the camp and mostly those players will be called, who were the part of the national team in the China Asian Games or were included in the camp probables for the continental event.

“All of the squad that took part in the Asian Games was under-age except captain Jaffar Khan, defenders Samar Ishaq and England-based Atif Bashir. We had planned to prepare such a young lot who could also be used in the senior team which will feature in the AFC Challenge Cup penciled in for March 20-31,” the official said.

There is almost no chance of the inclusion of the discarded players like Abdul Aziz (National Bank), Mohammad Rasool (KESC), Shakir Lashari (PIA) and Farooq Shah who according to the officials have been tested.

“These players are tested and were even consistently ignored by foreign coaches,” the official said.

But there is chance that striker Asim Faiz from SSGC will be called up to the camp because of his splendid performance in the Premier League. Asim has so far scored 16 goals with two hat-tricks in the prime domestic event which will conclude on December 30.

Pakistan, who are currently depending on their experienced goalie Jaffar Khan, are also seeking his replacement.

“No doubt Jaffar was a great keeper but he has spent his prime time. But currently we don’t have any replacement for him and if we find Yaqoob Butt from Denmark to be a better goalie, he could replace Jaffar,” the official revealed.

Meanwhile, the PFF is committed to continue with Akhtar Mohiuddin as the head coach for the Olympic Qualifiers and AFC Challenge Cup. “We will prefer the experienced coaches and I think Akhtar is one of them. Pakistan’s performance in the Asian Games was much better than expected and I think we should continue with Akhtar,” the official said.