Pakistan football team gears up for Saudi Arabia’s first international women’s tournament [Arab News]

Pakistan football team gears up for Saudi Arabia’s first international women’s tournament [Arab News]

by Shahjahan Khurram

LAHORE: Pakistani players are gearing up for Saudi Arabia’s first international women’s football tournament next week, a competition they look forward to as an opportunity to get more international exposure.

The four-nation friendly tournament featuring Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Comoros and Mauritius will kick off at Prince Saud bin Jalawi Stadium in Al-Khobar, Eastern Province, on Jan. 11. It is the first such event since the Kingdom launched its national football league for women in 2020.

The first Saudi women’s national team has since 2021 been coached by Monika Staab, a veteran German player who had coached Bahrain and Qatar women’s sides after a trophy-laden playing career in her country. Under Staab, the Saudi team played their first match in 2022 against Seychelles in a 2–0 win in a friendly tournament in the Maldives.

During the tournament in Al-Khobar, Pakistan will square off against the Kingdom on Jan. 19, after beginning their bid against Comoros on Jan. 11.

“Inshallah, we’ll be able to make Pakistan proud,” Pakistan team captain Maria Khan told Arab News in an exclusive interview, as she welcomed the development of women’s football both in the Kingdom and at home.

“It’s for Asia, for the world, for FIFA … it’s a positive step for everyone.”

In 2013, Pakistan faced a ban by FIFA, the international football governing body, due to inactivity, and remained dormant even after it was lifted in 2017. But recently, the Pakistan Football Federation has been trying to revive the national squad with regular camps.

In September, the Pakistani women’s team participated in the South Asian Women’s Football Championship and won 7-0 against the Maldives.

The team’s head coach, Adeel Rizki, sees the upcoming tournament in Saudi Arabia as a “good opportunity” for players to get more international exposure.

“We have not competed in this type of competition before. I think it’s a good start and we feel like it’s going to be a good tool for football development in Asia,” he told Arab News.

“It will be a good competition for us and for our athletes to be able to compete at that level and to get exposure, and we finally have a chance to play on the international stage which is something that we look forward to all the time.”

He said the team was very well prepared for the event which would also help build sports ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

“It’s something that is a good learning experience for us and for them as well,” he said.

“We’re excited about it and we think, inshallah, it’s going to be a very good tournament.”

Published in Arab News Pakistan, 7 January 2023