By Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: Pakistan football team will leave for back-to-back tours of Nepal and Maldives in the wee hours of Tuesday (today) from Lahore to play friendly games in a bid to prepare for the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers to be held in March in Kyrgyzstan.
The Greenshirts will first land in Nepal to play against them on February 6 and 9.From there they will move to Maldives for matches on February 12 and 14.
On February 15, the team will return and the players will then be sent to their homes for a few days’ rest before the final phase of the preparation starts from February 20. It is yet to be decided whether the foreign-based players will attend the last phase of the preparation in Pakistan.
The country’s prime goalie Jaffar Khan has been retained as the skipper, while seasoned defender Samar Ishaq will act as his deputy on the tours.The 18-member side includes five foreign-based players: England-born left-back Shabbir Khan, Denmark-born strikers Hassan Bashir and Mohammad Ali, defender Yaqoob Butt and his brother goalkeeper Yousuf Butt. All of these boys attended the camp which started in Lahore from January 27.Yaqoob will make his debut for Pakistan. England-born midfielder Amjad Iqbal had also been invited but he did not turn up due to some problems.
Experienced midfielder Yasir Afridi, who has been dogged by injuries, also managed find a place in the squad.Pakistan’s Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevic told ‘The News’ that the tours would help him compose a better side for the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers. “It will definitely give us answer and will support us to compose and build a better side for the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers which is our main goal,” Zavisa said.
He said that a few days’ training turned out to be helpful. “We did some good work in the last few days. We focused on situational training as our target was to develop the game in a 4-4-2 system. We also did work on free-kicks and corner-kicks as it’s very important to score from break, a technical part of the game,” Zavisa revealed.He was also satisfied with the fitness level of the players. “As our target was to work on technical and tactical aspects and fitness was not our prime focus and the players have already joined the camp with a certain level of fitness but still I can say that they have improved their fitness level as well,” said the coach.
In the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers, Pakistan have been placed in Group B with the hosts Kyrgyzstan, former champions Tajikistan and Macau with the matches to be played on March 17, 19 and 21.
Squad: Goalkeepers: Jaffar Khan (captain), Yousuf Butt, Saqib Hanif. Defenders: Samar Ishaq (vice-captain), Naveed Ahmed, Kamran Khan, Muhammad Ahmed, Muhammad Hameed, Shabbir Khan, Yaqoob Ejaz Butt. Midfielders: Faisal Iqbal, Muhammad Adil, Yasir Afridi.Strikers: Kaleem Ullah, Muhammad Mujahid, Hassan Bashir, Saeed Ahmed, Muhammad Ali.
Officials: Milosavljevic Zavisa (head coach/manager), Shehzad Anwar (assistant coach), Muhammad Aslam Khan (goalkeeper coach), Kamran Mehdi (physiotherapist/assistant manager).