Injured Haji unlikely to lead U-21 team in Thailand tour, Palestine series

By Shazia Hasan [Dawn]

KARACHI: Stopper Mohammad Haji, captain elect of the soon to be announced Pakistan under-21 football team for the forthcoming brief tour of Thailand, the Palestine series and the London Olympics qualifiers, got injured during practice at the Model Town Football Academy (MTFA) in Lahore.

Haji has injured ligaments in his knee and has been released from camp on the advice of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) doctors.

“His getting hurt at this point when we were finalising the squad is a huge blow to us,” said national team coach Tariq Lutfi while speaking to Dawn on Thursday.

“Having been named the best player of the Premier League, Haji is a seasoned player expected to serve as the backbone of our defense line. His absence from the side will be felt greatly but as coach I couldn’t allow him to exert himself as I also have to keep his playing career in mind, which may be effected if I let him play on and aggravate the injury. I think he will be fine if he follows doctors’ advice,” said the concerned coach.

Asked who he thought could lead the team now, Lutfi pondered over the matter: “Well, it will have to be one of the other senior boys, who are anyway a rare commodity due to the U-21 age limitation.”

Meanwhile, Danish goalkeeper Yousuf Butt reported to camp on Thursday morning. “I let him rest a little before joining our evening training session as he had only arrived today after his long flight,” said Lutfi. “And I liked what I saw,” he added.

“Butt is a very tall fellow but height hasn’t hurt his coordination. His basic blocking skills such as catching, diving, punching, kicking, etc., all seem to be in place. He is also physically fit unlike the other foreign goalkeeper, the Spaniard Naiman Khan, who I found a bit bulky, and who also got injured during camp,” he said.

About the other foreign boy English midfielder Irfan Khan, who plays for Bradford Park Avenue Association Football Club, he concluded: “I am very happy with his performance, too.”

The final team will be announced by the PFF soon after getting approval of the federation President Makhdoon Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat.