Pakistan eye friendly tests ahead of SAFF Championship


KARACHI, July 8: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is in talks with several different associations to arrange a series of friendlies for the national team ahead of September’s SAFF Championship in Nepal.

The regional event starts from Sept 1 in Kathmandu and Pakistan risk falling short of match practice for South Asia’s premier competition with the country’s last competitive match coming in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in March.

And the PFF is looking to make sure that the team is not found wanting in Nepal.

“We are in talks with several different federations,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn on Monday. “We’re trying to get some dates in August as we don’t want to leave the team with lack of match-practice in the SAFF Championship.”

Lodhi added that the country’s football governing body is eyeing matches against four different countries.

“We are currently in talks with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Singapore and Lesotho over the prospect of having some friendly matches in August,” he said. “It is important that we get to play these games so that the players can achieve the required fitness to perform well in the tournament.”

Despite the lack of international matches, Pakistan rose one place to 167th in this month’s FIFA rankings but they will have their work cut out at the SAFF Championship when they face higher-ranked Afghanistan (140), India (146) and Bangladesh (152).

India saw two of their friendly matches against Malaysia and the Philippines cancelled due to a clash of dates but are trying to arrange a warm-up match against Tajikistan as they look to defend their crown in the eight-nation event.

Bangladesh, meanwhile, will be touring Thailand where they play two practice matches ahead of the regional event.

The bulk of Pakistan’s Nepal-bound squad is expected to be made up of local-based players, who were last in competitive action during the National Challenge Cup in May and are expected to return to training at the start of August, at the end of the holy month of Ramazan.

Meanwhile, a few members of Pakistan’s foreign-based contingent were in action in the English city of Bradford on Sunday where they played in a charity exhibition match between Bradford Park Avenue and a Pakistan Invitational XI.

Pakistan’s Denmark-based quartet of goalkeeper Yousuf Butt, defender Yaqoob Butt and strikers Mohammad Ali and Hassan Bashir, along with midfielder Adnan Ahmed, were in the national squad which lost the game 5-3.

The afore-mentioned players are regularly called up by Pakistan head-coach Zavisa Milosavljevic and are also likely to be included in the squad for the SAFF Championship.

Also in the reckoning for the event will be left-back Shabir Khan, who recently extended his contract with Worcester City — the side which features in England’s Blue Square Bet North.

Pakistan’s star defender Zesh Rehman, meanwhile, has returned to pre-season training with Kitchee FC and he is expected to be in the starting line-up when the Hong Kong side play English Premier League champions Manchester United in a friendly on July 29.

The squad for the SAFF Championship will be finalised early next month when Milosavljevic returns from his native Serbia where he is currently obtaining his coaching license.

“Milosavljevic is expected back in the country by the end of July,” Lodhi said. “And hopefully by the start of August we’ll have a good idea of the squad for the SAFF Championship.”