by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: Pakistan will begin their SAFF Cup preparation on Sunday (today) when they take on hosts Mauritius in the opening game of the four-nation football event at the Anjalay Stadium Belle Vue Harel.
The match begins at 4pm PST on artificial turf.
Pakistan held their training session on Saturday.
“Yes, today we held our second training session,” Pakistan head coach Shehzad Anwar told ‘The News’ from Mauritius.
Pakistan will also benefit from the presence of nine solid foreign-based players, also including Otis Khan, Easah Suliman, Hasan Bashir and Harun Hamid.
However, Shehzad said that former England youth team captain Easah Suliman and Denmark-based defender Abdullah Iqbal will be missing the first game against Mauritius.
“They will arrive on June 12,” Shehzad revealed.
“The rest of the diaspora players have reached and were involved in training sessions and they were found in top shape,” Shehzad said.
He said that all players are fit and ready for the showdown against Mauritius.
“All are fit and we are ready for tomorrow’s game. I am very much optimistic about Pakistan’s win,” Shehzad said.
Kenya and Djibouti are the other teams in the event being held on the basis of single league basis. The outfit, which will finish at the summit on points, will be declared the winners.
Kenya are the highest-ranked side in the tournament with 102 ranking. They are followed by Mauritius, which also are set to play almost after a year, with 180 ranking. Djibouti stand at 193 and Pakistan are the lowest-ranked side with 195 ranking.
The current Pakistan team is dominated by diaspora players with some having good credentials. It will be a testing time for the foreign-based stuff and will be interesting to see how they perform for the country in this four-nation tournament which is a preparatory phase for the SAFF Cup where Pakistan will have to face tough India and Kuwait in their group.
Meanwhile former Pakistan assistant coach Nasir Ismail said that there will be no benefit of the foreign-based players.
“I don’t think their presence will benefit the team. Their presence will make a difference only when they train with the home-grown players in the camp for a minimum of 20 days,” Nasir told The News.
“The second thing is that if you are to prepare for the SAFF Cup where you will face India and Kuwait then you needed to give exposure to your team against such sides who are better than India and Kuwait,” Nasir pointed out.
“Only Kenya is a better side in this event. It would have been better had the team been sent to Saudi Arabia or Dubai. Playing against UAE Under-23 team could also benefit Pakistan in their preparation for the SAFF Cup,” Nasir said.
Pakistan will face their next game against Kenya on June 14 with their last to come up against Djibouti on June 17.
Pakistan, if allowed by the state, will then move to India from Mauritius to feature in the SAFF Cup scheduled to be held in Bengaluru from June 21 to July 4.
Meanwhile Tony Francois’ Mauritius will be trying their level best to take a solid start against Pakistan which is a new opponent for them. Pakistan in recent months played just two games against Nepal and Maldives and lost them both.
Squad: Goalkeepers: Saqib Hanif, Salman-ul-Haq, Yousaf Ijaz Butt
Defenders: Muhammad Umar Hayat, Ali Khan Niazi, Muhammad Sufyan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Syed Abdullah Shah, Haseeb Ahmed Khan, Sardar Wali, Easah Suliman, Abdullah Iqbal
Midfielders: Alamgir Ali Khan Ghazi, Ali Uzair Mahmood, Moin Ahmed, Shayak Dost, Muhammad Waleed Khan, Rahis Nabi, Harun Hamid, Muhammad Adnan Yaqoob
Forwards: Abdul Samad Shahzad, Otis Jan Mohammad Khan, Hassan Naweed Bashir, Muhammad Waheed.