Pakistan fail to prepare ahead of SAFF Cup 2011

By Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: National footballers are likely to begin their preparatory campaign for the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in the first week of November, it was learnt on Sunday.

“Although the Premier League is in progress but personally I think that the camp for the SAFF Cup should start from the first week of November,” secretary of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Col Ahmad Yar Khan Lodhi told ‘The News’ on Sunday.

The SAFF Cup, which Pakistan are yet to win, has already been shifted from Cuttack (Orissa) to New Delhi and will be held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the Indian capital from December 2-12. The stadium, which has a capacity of 60,000, was also the main venue for the Commonwealth Games held last year.

This is the second time that the event is being hosted by India. Of the eight championships held so far, India have won five times while Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives have lifted the title once each.

As Pakistan are yet to hire any foreign coach, Tariq Lutfi will serve as coach during the important event in India.

“Lutfi will serve as coach until a foreign coach is hired. We have asked him to give his input about the schedule of the camp for the India’s affair,” Lodhi said.

This correspondent tried to contact Lutfi but he was not available for his comments.

According to sources, Lutfi is not in favour of starting his team’s preparatory camp in the first week of November because of his involvement as a coach with the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in the Premier League.

But a delayed start of the camp will not serve the purpose and the team could face more problems during the eight-nation event for which other countries have already started their preparations.

India, also the defending champions, are hot favourites and they will also have the home advantage. On the other hand, Nepal, under English coach Graham Roberts, have been preparing for the event for the last seven weeks.

Bangladesh kicked off their preparations from September 26 under Macedonian coach Nikola Ilievski. The team is scheduled to play more than half-a-dozen practice matches against different Bangladesh League clubs and age-group teams before starting their skill training on October 23.

Afghanistan, who have majority of their team members playing abroad, are one of the serious contenders besides the skilled Maldives who had shown stunning performance when they lifted the 2008 edition jointly hosted by Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Keeping in view the tough event ahead, football authorities in Pakistan should take the assignment seriously and prepare a plan as soon as possible.

A few days back, a top official of the PFF had told this correspondent that efforts would be made to send the team to Malaysia or Thailand ahead of the Delhi spectacle.

Pakistan have on their radar foreign-based players including Zeeshan Rehman, Atif Bashir, Adnan Ahmad, Shabbir Khan, Reis Ashraf and Denmark-based Yousuf Butt, Nabil Aslam, Mohammad Ali and Hassan Bashir.

Pakistan need a balanced side for the vital assignment and the authorities will have to follow merit for selection. If a few home-based super fit seniors could prove better for the team, they should also be picked for the job.