Pakistan to kick-start training for India series from tomorrow

Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: National footballers will assemble in Lahore on Friday (tomorrow) to start their preparatory campaign for the two-match series against India in England next month.

The training sessions, which will formally kick-off on Saturday, will be held in the night due to Ramadan. However before Iftar an hour-long warm-up session would be held, head coach Tariq Lutfi said.

Three foreign-based players Hassan Bashir, Irfan Khan and Zubair Ahmed have already reached the Punjab capital. Denmark-based striker Hassan Bashir, who plays for Hellerup IK, will be a welcome inclusion to the team as the player is quick and technically sound. Britain-based defender Zubair Ahmed has come to Lahore on his own resources and will be put to test. The full-back has also played for Sharjah Club in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for six months, a top official of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) said.

UK-based midfielder Irfan Khan is a familiar name as he has represented Pakistan Under-19 team in the AFC Under-19 Championships in Tehran in 2007. Besides the trio, England-based Atif Bashir, Adnan Ahmed, Shabbir Khan and Denmark-based goalkeeper Yousuf Butt and left-wingback Mohammad Ali will join the team in England.

Pakistan will fly out for England from Lahore on August 29 and will play their opener against arch-rivals India at the Pride Park in Derby, on September 3 followed by their next match at Ibrox in Glasgow on September 9.

The Greenshirts will also play two practice games against the local clubs during the tour which is being held on neutral soil for the first time. AC Horsens defender Nabil Aslam and Muangthong United centre-back Zeeshan Rehman are not available. Zesh had also skipped Pakistan’s home leg of the World Cup qualifiers against Bangladesh in Lahore recently due to personal problems while Nabil has a torn ligament which will require at least ten weeks to recover, a source close to Danish Superliga player told ‘The News’.

But it is certain that Pakistan’s prime goalie Jaffar Khan and defender Samar Ishaq have been dropped. Both were earlier included in the probables list which the coach had given to the PFF. But what happened later is a question mark over the authority of the coach.

KESC striker Mohammad Rasool and KRL striker Mohammad Qasim are the other big exclusions from the camp. Although Qasim looked out of form, Rasool deserved a place in the team for the series against India. The PFF stance to give more chance to the juniors seems to be a real threat to the home-based seniors.

PIA defender Haji Mohammad, though, has been recalled. Haji was ruled out of the Olympic qualifiers against Malaysia earlier this year because of injury which had also forced the management to appoint Jadeed Khan Pathan as captain in his place.

Pakistan have also decided to keep three goalkeepers Jehangir Khan, Mohammad Umar and Yousuf Butt in the team.

India look favourites for the series. Although the first game of their Caribbean tour against Barbados on Wednesday was cancelled, they are scheduled to face Trinidad and Tobago on August 21 and Guyana on August 24 which will give them good preparation for the series.

But Tariq Lutfi said that the series would be interesting.

“Although India are undergoing a foreign tour, I think it would be a close series,” he said.

All the players and officials have been given UK visas.

“We have got UK visas for the players and officials in six days,” Director Marketing and Event Management of the PFF Sardar Naved Haider Khan confirmed.

Twenty-two players and five officials will proceed to England. The last time Pakistan visited England was in March 2001 when they were preparing for the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. On that tour, Pakistan lost to the then English second division side Bury FC 0-3 before falling against Coventry City (0-2) and an amateur level London ABSA team.

Unofficial camp probables: Jehangir Khan, Mohammad Umar, Yousuf Butt, Alamgir Khan, Atif Bashir, Faisal Iqbal, Manzoor Ahmad, Arif Hussain, Kaleemullah, Mehmood Khan, Hasnain Abbas, Mohammad Ikram, Adnan Ahmed, Haji Mohammad, Saddam Hussain, Adil Ahmed, Rizwan Asif, Hassan Bashir, Shabbir Khan, Mohammad Ali, Zubair Ahmed, Irfan Khan. Officials: Tariq Lutfi (coach), Nasir Ismail (assistant coach), Gohar Zaman (manager), Aslam Khan (goalkeeping coach).