Lutfi confident of good show in qualifiers

Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: The AFC Challenge Cup football qualifiers are a big challenge for Pakistan team keeping in view the strength of the opponents but head coach Tariq Lutfi is confident that his side will give a tough time to their rivals in Group B slots penciled in for March 21 to 25 in Kuala Lumpur.

“I feel that Turkmenistan, India and Chinese Taipei are tough sides and they have also prepared well on foreign soil but we have also formed a better side and will give them tough time,” Lutfi told ‘The News’ in an interview here on Wednesday.

Pakistan will face Turkmenistan on March 21, followed by their matches against India on March 23 and Chinese Taipei on March 25.

The coach will give the list of the final 20 players to the PFF on Thursday (today) for formal approval and the team will fly out for Kuala Lumpur via Thailand on Friday night (tomorrow).

“I don’t want to disclose the final names at this stage as it will hurt those who are not part of the team and will give the PFF the final list on Thursday,” Lutfi said.

However, it is confirmed that experienced striker Arif Mehmood, Mohammad Qasim, foreign-based Atif Bashir, Adnan Farooq and Kashif Mumtaz Siddiqui are part of the team.

Midfielder Abdul Aziz, who was snubbed for the Asian Games last year, is also expected to make a comeback. Pakistan will rely on their young gloveman Mohammad Omar and Aamir Gul after Denmark-based Yousuf Butt was already dropped after failing to impress in the first-leg of the Olympic qualifier against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on February 23.

Defender Samar Ishaq is expected to be made captain as he is the best choice available with the management as the KRL player has sufficient international experience.

With young midfielder Mohammad Tauseef and experienced defender Mohammad Haji out of the team with serious injuries, the team is having more than fifty percent those young players who have taken part in the Olympic qualifiers.

“More than fifty percent of the lot consists of those young guns who have played in the Olympic qualifiers, while the rest are seniors,” Lutfi said.

He admitted that Pakistan may face problem in their finishing. “Finishing is the area of concern but it cannot be corrected overnight. We recently in the Olympic qualifiers created several chances but could not avail. Scoring is a delicate area and will take time to improve,” he said.

“We have Mohammad Qasim, Jadeed Khan, Arif Mehmood, Rizwan Asif in our frontline and hope that they will not disappoint us in the coming event,” Lutfi said.

Lutfi was happy with the soft coordination between the juniors and seniors. “All the seniors including foreign-based are full of praise for the junior players. I feel that a competitive environment will be produced in the team,” Lutfi said.