2020 AFC U23 Championship Qualifiers begin today sans Pakistan [The News]

2020 AFC U23 Championship Qualifiers begin today sans Pakistan [The News]

KARACHI: Pakistan will miss the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Championship Qualifiers, which are also the first stage of the qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, beginning in different countries from Friday (today).

Pakistan had been clubbed in Group F with defending champions and hosts Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and India but withdrew the entry because of the legal conflict which will be discussed at the meeting of the FIFA Member Associations Committee on April 3.

This is indeed a huge miss by Pakistan who had prepared very hard for a few months until a new Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) was formed as a result of the Supreme Court-ordered elections in December last year.

FIFA-recognised PFF has handed over the control of the federation to the new body as per the apex court’s instructions. FIFA and AFC don’t recognise the new body, which is headed by Ashfaq Hussain Shah. FIFA still recognises Faisal Saleh Hayat as the PFF president.

After the apex court disposed of the matter on March 13, 2019, it seems that the ball is now in FIFA’s court.

Pakistan spent a huge fund on preparing the side for the Olympic qualifiers by fielding the boys in a few international events besides having managed a few foreign training tours last year.

Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira had been handling Pakistan team. Brazilian trainer Jose Portella had been backing Nogueira.

Former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa said it was a huge damage to the country’s football. “It’s a real damage to our football that we missed the Olympic qualifiers first stage,” Essa told ‘The News’ from Chaman on Thursday.

“We are damaging only the careers of our players. Now we will wait for four more years for such an event. It’s time the government played its role in the resolution of the dispute. If the issue was not resolved we could also miss the World Cup qualifiers next summer,” Essa said.

He also fears that FIFA might impose sanctions on Pakistan once again. “Next month is very important as FIFA will discuss the matter and Pakistan may face sanctions again,” the country’s former playmaker said.

Essa was also associated with the Pakistan team as an assistant coach till December last year. The qualifiers will see 43 teams jostling for 15 spots to next January’s finals, which will also serve as the qualifying round for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

With Japan having confirmed their Olympic berth by virtue of being the hosts, three spots will be up for grabs in the AFC Under-23 Championship Thailand 2020. The qualifiers’ draw last November threw up some mouth-watering groups, with the teams divided into two zones: WEST (West + South + Central) with 23 sides, and EAST (East + ASEAN) with 20 teams.

The 11 group winners and four best second-placed teams will qualify for the finals, with hosts Thailand receiving automatic qualification.

Published in The News, 22 March 2019