Pakistan depart to KL for qualifiers

Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: Pakistan football team left for Kuala Lumpur from Lahore on Friday night to feature in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers Group B penciled in for March 21 to 25 in Malaysia.

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

Two teams from the group will move into the eight-team tournament proper which will be held next year. Like the Olympic team last month, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) once again announced the 21-member senior squad for the Kuala Lumpur assignment just hours before departure of the squad.

The country’s most experienced defender Samar Ishaq was made captain while National Bank midfielder and former Pakistan’s Under-23 squad captain Abdul Aziz, who was snubbed for the Asian Games last year, was recalled as vice-captain. Striker Imran Niazi, who was not in the good books of the then-Pakistan coach George Kottan, was also recalled.

Pakistan picked four foreign-based players in the squad including US-based midfielder Kashif Mumtaz Siddiqui, defender Atif Bashir from Barry Town, Wales, midfielder Adnan Farooq Ahmed from Aboomoslem FC, Iran and professional defender Zeehshan Rehman from Muangthong United FC, Thailand.

Atif, Adnan and Kashif left with the team while Zeeshan will join them in Kuala Lumpur on March 20 or 21. The squad contains 11 players from the Olympic squad recently featured in the first round of the Olympic qualifiers against Malaysia and ten seniors.

“We have picked a balanced side and will try to put up our best,” head coach Tariq Lutfi told ‘The News’ on Friday. “The players are mentally prepared and want to produce good performance on the tough tour.”

The coach admitted that the inclusion of Zeeshan Rehman will boost the team’s defence.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Mohammad Omar, Aamir Gul, Defenders: Samar Ishaq (captain), Manzoor Ahmad, Zeeshan Rehman, Alamgir Khan, Atif Bashir. Midfielders: Abdul Aziz (vice-captain), Adnan Farooq Ahmad, Faisal Iqbal, Kashif Mumtaz Siddiqui, Nasrullah Khan, Mohammad Aadil, Mehmood Khan, Syed Arif Hussain. Strikers: Kaleemullah, Jadeed Khan Pathan, Imran Niazi, Arif Mehmood, Mohammad Qasim, Mohammad RizwanOfficials: Tariq Lutfi (head coach), Nasir Ismail, Gohar Zaman (coaches), Mohammad Aslam Khan (goalkeeping coach), Dr Kamran Mehdi (physiotherapist), Sardar Naveed Haider (head delegate).