by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: Pakistan football team on Tuesday evening flew out of Mauritius for Bengaluru to face hosts India in their opening clash of the SAFF Cup at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru, Karnataka, on Wednesday (today).
The match starts at 7pm PST.
According to a well-placed source in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee, the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) had been requested to reschedule Pakistan’s match against India but the reply was that it was not possible.
“The match will go ahead as per schedule,” the NC source said.
Pakistan will get a few hours rest before they take on arch-rivals India in their Group A opener. It will be a tough task for the Green-shirts when they will have travelled for so many hours and the entire lot will be tired.
“Yes, it’s very difficult to play the match hours after landing in the host city,” former Pakistan coach Zavisa Milosavljevic told ‘The News’ on Tuesday from Serbia.
“The team needs at least three days to adapt to the local conditions and adjust with the climate. The team also needs recovery training a day before the game,” Zavisa said.
“And traditionally the match between Pakistan and India is tough, with too much emotions involved on both sides; let’s hope for the best,” Zavisa said.
Earlier, this correspondent learnt through team sources that the 32-member Pakistan contingent, including a referee, flew out of Mauritius via two flights. As many as 20 members of the squad flew via Air Mauritius and the remaining 12 members departed via Air India. They were scheduled to arrive at 1am IST at Mumbai.
And from there the 20 members would leave via Air Mauritius at 5:55 am IST and land at Bengaluru at 7:45am IST.
The remaining 12 people would fly out of Mumbai for Bengaluru at 3:55 am IST and land at Bengaluru at 5:50am IST.
Pakistan team got Indian visas late Monday and that caused the delay.
During a few tense days shrouded in uncertainty due to visas issue Pakistan team kept up their regular training. On Tuesday morning, too, the Green-shirts underwent training.
Head coach Shehzad Anwar said that they would try their best. “Yes, the situation is before you. If we go to hotel at 9am tomorrow so we will get ten hours but in that we will have to take our breakfast, lunch and will travel to the venue two hours before the match. It’s tricky but let’s see what happens,” Shehzad told ‘The News’ from Mauritius just before departure for India.
“We did recovery training in the morning today. We had also conducted a training session on Monday,” Shehzad said.
He said India are a tough side. “You know India’s football has grown, especially during the last three years. They won Inter-Continental Cup recently, the second time they won it. They have a load of experience,” Shehzad said.
“In 2018 India beat Pakistan 3-1 in the SAFF Cup semi-final and I will tell you that it was India’s Under-23 team and there is only one player of that squad which is in India’s current team which will face us tomorrow as the whole lot is senior, also including Sunil Chhetri, the captain, with a load of goals to his credit,” Shehzad said.
“Pakistan is in rebuilding phase, having passed through a long inactive period during the last seven to eight years. We played good football in Mauritius, also extended tough fight to Kenya which was a morale-booster,” Shehzad said.
This is the 14th edition of the SAFF Cup and India will be hosting the biennial event for the fourth time.
India have won the event eight times. Maldives have won it twice while Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have lifted the trophy once each.
On India’s soil, Pakistan will be playing for the first time since they last played a bilateral two-match series against India which ended in a 1-1 draw in Bangalore in 2014.
Pakistan 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.