Sports Correspondent – DAWN
LAHORE, Sept 24: Foreign teams participating in the AFC U-16 Championship qualifiers, which kick-off here on Wednesday, vowed to play competitive football and expressed their satisfaction at the arrangements made by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and the Sports Board Punjab.
Pakistan, Iran, UAE and Sri Lanka will contest Group ‘E’ of the qualifiers at the Punjab Football Stadium with the group winners advancing to the finals in Thailand next year.
The second-placed team will also be with a chance of making it to Thailand with the top five best second-placed teams from ten groups going through to the finals of the biennial event.
“We are glad to be here in the historic city of Lahore and are looking forward to get feeling of their warm hospitality,” Iran’s head-coach Mostafa Ghanbar said at a press conference here on Tuesday.
“We are thankful to PFF, Sports Board Punjab and the media for their excellent cooperation,” he added.
Mostafa expected teams to play good attacking football in the event and even though his team go into the qualifiers as favourites, he said the teams were equal in strength.
“We will play with the best spirit of sportsmanship and give our all to qualify for the tournament finals.”
He said the prevailing weather in Lahore was not different to the one in Northern Iran.
“We are used to play under such humidity conditions and the weather of Lahore will not create any problem for us,” he said, while adding UAE would be tough contenders in group.
UAE coach Badir Ahmed Abdalla Saleh said his team would try to win all their games in the group starting with their game against Pakistan on Wednesday.
“We’ll be facing tough opponents in the group … especially Iran who are one of the best teams in Asia,” he said. “But we have a good team as some of our players were part of the UAE U-17 team which won the Gulf Cup of Nations earlier this month.
“So we’re in good spirits for the event.” Pakistan coach Sajjad Mahmood also termed Iran as the strongest team in the group.
“Iran look like formidable opponents,” he said. “But we are determined to put up an excellent performance before the home crowd and the boys have gone intensive training.”
The Pakistan U-16 team won the inaugural SAFF U-16 Championship in 2011 but failed to defend their title earlier this year.
But Sajjad hoped they will be able to turn things around for the qualifiers.
“This [event] will provide the boys with a good opportunity to groom themselves for international events,” he said.
Pakistan captain Rajab Ali added: “We hope to play a good game in the qualifiers and hopefully top the group.”
Sri Lankan gaffer Wijesekara Nimal was also optimistic about his team’s chances in the event.
“Our defence is very strong and our goalkeeper is an exceptional one,” he said. “We’ve made good preparations for the event and we’ve adapted well to the conditions here.
“Iran are favourites to win the group but we’ll try to get an upset when we face them tomorrow.”
Sept 25: Iran v Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates v Pakistan.
Sept 27: Pakistan v Iran; Sri Lanka v United Arab Emirates.
Sept 29: Iran v United Arab Emirates; Pakistan v Sri Lanka.