by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: What cricket failed to do, football is likely to deliver. Football is set to bring both Pakistan and India together later this month. The strained relations between the neighbouring nations have also hit hard the sports competitions between the two countries for the last few years.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has asked India’s embassy in Mauritius to issue visas to Pakistan football team which plans to move to India from Mauritius most probably on June 18 to feature in the SAFF Cup scheduled to be held in Bengaluru from June 21 July 4.
According to sources, AIFF has done a fine job to facilitate Pakistan at all levels. Pakistan team was scheduled to fly out from here for Mauritius late Wednesday night to feature in the four-nation event. The Green-shirts will play their first match against hosts Mauritius on June 11 at the Anjalay Stadium Belle Vue Harel, against Kenya on June 14 and Djibouti on June 17.
Due to time factor Pakistan team plans to move to India from Mauritius directly after featuring in the four-nation event. In the SAFF Cup, Pakistan have been placed in Group A with arch-rivals India, Nepal and invitees Kuwait. Pakistan will begin their SAFF Cup journey with their showdown against India on June 21.
Sources said that the government has not yet issued NOC to the Pakistan team for featuring in the SAFF Cup. However, a well-placed source told this correspondent that the Ministry of External Affairs has given go ahead to Pakistan team for featuring in the SAFF Cup and the case is now with the Ministry of Interior.
“I don’t know when the process will complete but I have come to know that Foreign Office has given approval and the case is now with the Ministry of Interior,” the source claimed. The source said that the IPC Ministry is handling the matter.
Sources said that the PFF Normalisation Committee has made all arrangements for sending Pakistan team to India for the SAFF Cup from Mauritius but it will be done only after getting NOC. Sources said that AIFF Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran has played a key role in facilitating Pakistan.
Shaji had promised a delegation of PFF NC in a meeting on the sidelines of the FIFA Congress a few months ago in Rwanda that Pakistan team would be facilitated and every effort would be made to ensure its participation in the SAFF Cup which is the biggest event of the region.
Pakistan’s head coach Shehzad Anwar said that it would be a good experience to play against the African nations. “It will be a fine experience to play against African nations whose players are strong and normally play with physical contact which will be a challenge for us,” Shehzad told ‘The News’.