Alam Zeb Safi – The News
KARACHI: Pakistan colts coach Sajjad Mehmood is confident that his team will live up to the countrymen’s expectations in the 2014 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-16 Championship Qualifiers of Group E, which begin at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore on Wednesday (tomorrow).
“We have made good preparations and I am hopeful that the team will click in the qualifiers,” Sajjad told ‘The News’ in an interview from Lahore on Monday.
The Green-shirts will start their campaign with the match against UAE on Wednesday at 7pm. Earlier in the day, Iran will meet Sri Lanka at 4pm. On Friday Pakistan will face Iran at 4pm and Sri Lanka will lock horns with the UAE at 7pm.
In the final round on Sunday Iran will face the UAE at 4pm and Pakistan will be pitted against Sri Lanka at 7pm. The qualifiers will be telecast live by Geo Super.
Striker Hassam Mehmood and midfielder Umair Ali are fresh inductees in the 22-man Pakistan squad. The other 20 boys are those who participated in the 2nd Under-16 SAFF Championship in Kathmandu in August. Both Hassam and Umair have the experience of playing in the AFC Under-14 Championship in Iran.
“We have worked very hard in every department and the players are fully charged and motivated,” said Sajjad, who guided Pakistan colts to a title triumph in the inaugural Under-16 SAFF Championship in Nepal in 2011. It was the first title for Pakistan since their gold medal in the 2006 Colombo South Asian Games.
Sajjad said that his team had a few good practice matches in the past few days. “We played against the Model Town Academy and a team from Garhi Shahu, but our three matches against Pakistan Under-19 team were the most important,” Sajjad said. “We held Pakistan Under-19 to a draw twice and lost by two goals once. This has given our youngsters the confidence required for the qualifiers,” Sajjad added.
“Apart from frontline and midfield our defence looked very impressive against the Under-19 side. The way they restricted Under-19 strikers like Mansoor Khan gives indication that they will do well against the visitors,” the License B coach said.
As many as 43 nations are taking part in the encounters, which have been placed in ten groups. The group winners and the best five runners-up will join hosts Thailand in the finals next year.
As Pakistan will be playing two games under floodlights, the team has had sufficient practice at the floodlit Model Town Academy Ground in Lahore. Iran and the UAE have already landed in Lahore while Sri Lanka were scheduled to reach on Monday night.
The Group A, G and H qualifiers have already started in different countries from September 21, while the rest will kick off on Wednesday.Pakistan’s unofficial squad: Goalkeepers: Mohammad Shoaib, Junaid Javed, Mateen Akram.
Defenders: Mohammad Rashid, Mohammad Shehbaz, Rajab Ali, Adnan Ashraf, Abdul Saboor, Arslan Ali, Adnan Khaliq.
Midfielders: Faisal Hasan, Wali Khan, Umair Ali, Salman Rahim, Zain-ul-Aabdeen, Zulfiqar, Mohsin Fareed. Strikers: Muneer Ahmed, Hassam Mehmood, Zohaib, Waleed Ayaz, Hamza Shabbir.
Officials: Sajjad Mehmood (head coach), Hasan Baloch (assistant coach), Nouman Ibrahim (goalkeeping coach), Dr Kamran Mehdi (physiotherapist).