Vietnam offer tough test to Pakistan’s return from abyss [PREVIEW]

Vietnam offer tough test to Pakistan’s return from abyss [PREVIEW]

by Faizan Liaquat [FPDC staffer from Karachi]

After a long pause of around three years, Pakistan national team is finally back in action again. Our U23 lads are in Indonesia to take part in Asian Games 2018. The players who faced very difficult time in last few years looked relaxed before leaving and most of them were confident that team will work hard to perform better compared to past appearances.

Pakistan’s new Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira has, however, said number of times that the team is still under development phase and results will come as the time passes.

The boys in Green recently visited Bahrain where they played four friendlies against domestic clubs for preparation. Pakistan lost 1 game, played a 0-0 draw, while winning remaining two. Few senior player were also part of team in that tour likes of Denmark-based Yousuf Butt and Hassan Bashir, as well as Muhammad Adil.

Like the Olympics, football in the Asian Games is an U23 event with teams allowed to have up to 3 senior players in their squads. Pakistan is drawn in Group D where they will face Vietnam on 14th August, Japan on 16th August and Nepal in their last game on 19th August. All matches will start at 14:00 PST and hopefully can be seen on television or online.

While most of the U23 squad was expected to be selected from the National Challenge Cup held a few months back, the final team selection did raise a few questions. For starters, senior goalkeeper Saqib Hanif, who wasn’t part of Bahrain tour due to club commitments in Maldives, got selected instead of Yousuf Butt despite the latter being active in all friendlies on tour but got sent back to Denmark.

News reports suggest Yousuf should be back for senior team duty in next month’s SAFF Cup being held in Bangladesh. The other two senior players for Pakistan are team captain Saddam Hussain who now plays club football in Northern Cyprus and midfielder Mehmood Khan.

Another controversy was former captain Kaleemullah, who recently signed for Turkish fifth division club Izmirspor, was not only ignored for the Asiad by PFF but will also not feature in the SAFF Cup. Kaleem’s exclusion attracted a lot of attention, with the player accusing PFF officials of playing politics with him while PFF responded by accusing Kaleem of being unprofessional. Unfortunately, politics in Pakistani football always have the last laugh at the cost of our own domestic and international progress.

Pakistan is in difficult group given Vietnam is one of the best young Asian sides right now having reached final of 2018 AFC U23 Championship where they lost 2-1 against Uzbekistan. Vietnam have prepared well for the Asiad by winning a tournament at home in which they beat Palestine and Oman U23s, and drawing with Uzbekistan U23s. Vietnam will want to start strongly and will surely aim for Asian Games football gold.

Pakistan team last won an Asian Games football match back in 1974, is there any chance our boys can break this curse in winning any game this time around? We will find out on this 14th August which is also the independence day of Pakistan. One can be forgiven for hoping our team give our nation a gift of Independence Day by pulling off an upset against highly-rated Vietnam in their opening game.

Pakistan team consist of the following players:

Saqib Hanif (A. A. Maalhos – Maldives) – vice captain
Ahsanullah (SSGC)

Mohammad Umar Hayat (WAPDA)
Mohsin Ali (Pakistan Navy)
Muhammad Bilal (WAPDA)
Mohammad Sohail (PAF)
Mehdi Hassan (PAF)
Shehbaz Younus (Pakistan Army)
Arsalan Ali (KRL)

Ali Khan Niazi (PCAA)
Mehmood Khan (KRL)
Adeel Ali (WAPDA)
Zainul Abideen Ishaque (PCAA)
Waseem Asghar (PCAA)
Saddam Hussain (Larnaka Gençler Birliği – North Cyprus) – captain
Muhammad Basit Amin (SNGPL)

Mohammad Riaz (K-Electric)
Maqbool (NBP)
Mansoor Khan (PAF)
Yousuf Ahmed (KRL)