AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers loom for Greenshirts

Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: After Pakistan’s Olympic team failed to qualify for the second round of the Olympic football qualifiers, now it is the turn of the senior lot to flex their muscles in the vital AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers Group B slated to be held in Kuala Lumpur from March 21-25.

With only a week left before the Greenshirts depart for Kuala Lumpur on March 18, there is a question mark over how senior players, including a few foreigners, will be able to find tune with around twelve plus junior boys which have been inserted into the senior team’s camp from the team which recently took part in Olympic qualifiers against Malaysia.

“It all depends on the attitude of the senior players how they deal with the juniors. If they don’t respect their juniors which have played excellent football in the second-leg against Malaysia on Wednesday at Lahore, then it would be difficult for them to gel it into a unit,” Pakistan head coach Tariq Lutfi told ‘The News’ on Thursday.

“But I will not compromise on discipline. If any thing like this goes against our objectives, I will opt to stick to the juniors. “Pakistan are in a tough pool and we have very little time at our disposal. But lets see what happens.”

Pakistan have been placed in Group B with Turkmenistan, India and Chinese Taipei. The Greenshirts will start their campaign with the match against Turkmenistan on March 21, followed by their matches against India on March 23 and Chinese Taipei on March 25. The top two teams from the group move into the tournament proper.

The junior players have been given two off-days after their second-leg of the Olympic qualifiers and now they will join their seniors in the camp on Saturday (tomorrow). Tariq revealed that United States-based midfielder Kashif Mumtaz Siddiqui has already joined the camp in Lahore while defender Atif Bashir from Barry Town, Wales and midfielder Adnan Farooq Ahmed from Aboomoslem FC, Iran will join it in one or two days.

Defender Zeehshan Rehman from Muangthong United FC, Thailand also intends to represent Pakistan in the crucial event. But the PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar told ‘The News’ that Zeeshan wants to join the team just one day before the opener, saying, he would not be included in the team if he failed to report for the camp till March 15.

Pakistan have overlooked their prime goalie Jaffar Khan and rather opted to continue with Mohammad Omar and Aamir Gul who recently also played in the Olympic qualifiers against Malaysia.

“No doubt Jaffar was a great keeper. But to me his career is finished now,” Lutfi said. Former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa was also included in the list of the probables for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers.

“Essa has informed the PFF that he would join the team only if he is made captain for the next two years,” a source said. Essa had announced retirement along with Jaffar Khan after falling out with the then Pakistan coach George Kottan during the SAFF Championship in Dhaka in December 2009.

Probables: Goalkeepers: Amir Gul (NBP), Muhammad Omar (KESC), Defenders: Manzoor Ahmed (WAPDA), Alamgir Khan (Police), Atif Bashir Qureshi (Barry Town, Wales), Samar Ishaq (KRL), Zeeshan Rehman (Muangthong United FC, Thailand), Midfielders: Faisal Iqbal (NBP), Syed Arif Hussain (WAPDA), Muhammad Adil (KRL), Mahmood Khan (KRL), Kashif Mumtaz Siddiqui (Fresno Fuego, USA), Abdul Aziz (NBP), Nasr Ullah Khan (PIA), Adnan Farooq Ahmed (Aboomoslem FC, Iran), Strikers: Saddam Hussain (PIA), Jadeed Khan Pathan (WAPDA), Rizwan Asif (KRL), Kalim Ullah (KRL), Imran Niazi (WAPDA), Arif Mehmood (WAPDA), Muhammad Qasim (KRL).