Disappointed PFF calls off Palestine tour

Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: Pakistan football team’s preparatory camp in Lahore was called off on Monday hours after the tour to Palestine was postponed after the Israeli government did not issue an NOC to the Palestine Football Association (PFA) due to fragile security situation in the region.

More than a dozen Palestinians were killed and about 360 wounded on Sunday when Israeli troops along the borders with Lebanon, Syria and the northern Gaza Strip opened fire on the protesters to prevent them from crossing over when they were marking Nakba (catastrophe) day which commemorates the dispersal of an estimated 800,000 Palestinians to refugee camps in the region during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

The Pakistani team was scheduled to tour Palestine on May 22 but a delay in issuing an NOC from the Israeli government to PFA forced the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to postpone the tour.

“Yes, the tour has been postponed as the NOC has not been issued as yet. We have also called off the camp today,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told ‘The News’ on Monday. “If possible the tour will be rescheduled after consulting with PFA in future,” he said.

Pakistan was scheduled to face Palestine in their remaining two matches of the four-match bilateral series on May 24 and 27 at Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium, Al-Ram near Ramallah.

In the first phase of the series, Palestine had defeated Pakistan 2-1 in Lahore on March 1 while the second match between the two teams here at the Peoples Sports Complex ended in a goalless draw on March 4.

Meanwhile, Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi said that the tour to Palestine could have been productive but was quick to add that such surprises could not be ruled out due to prevailing security situation.

“Safety of the players is more important and we should always prepare for such surprises. But I would say, it would have been productive for the preparations of our players ahead of the World Cup qualifiers against Bangladesh had we played the two matches against Palestine,” Lutfi said.

He said that the camp for the qualifiers would resume in the first week of next month (most probably on June 2) and in the first step all the short-listed home-grown players would be invited while foreign-based players would join them as per their availability.

“I have also requested the PFF for a 12 to 15-day camp in countries like Qatar, Kuwait and UAE and if it was made possible then it would boost our preparations for the World Cup qualifiers,” said Lutfi, who took charge as head coach on January 15 this year.

Pakistan will face Bangladesh in the qualifiers on June 29 and July 3 in Dhaka and Lahore respectively.

He revealed that injured striker Mohammad Rasool and seasoned midfielder Farooq Shah, who were not under consideration for the tour of Palestine, are very much in the probables list for the qualifiers.

The coach was also optimistic that the documents of the Denmark-based defender Nabeel Aslam, who plays for AC Horsens, will also be completed in time, saying, Atif Bashir Qureshi (Barry Town, Wales), Zeeshan Rehman (Muangthong United FC, Thailand), midfielder Adnan Farooq Ahmed (Aboomoslem FC, Iran) and strikers Hassan Bashir (Hellerup IK, Denmark), and Ahmad Akbar Khan (Australia) are very much expected to join the team for the qualifiers.

About the England-based left-back Shabbir Khan, Lutfi said, “Shabbir has also recovered from an injury and has started training and is also on our radar for the qualifiers.”