by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: Pakistan football team head coach Shehzad Anwar on Thursday paid tribute to his charges for making hectic efforts until the final whistle in their SAFF Cup showdown against India despite fatigue following a 24-hour long travel from Mauritius.
“Hats off to my players who despite so much fatigue made good efforts in the entire 90 minutes game against India,” Shehzad told ‘The News’ in an informal chat from Bengaluru which is hosting the SAFF Cup.
This is the fourth time that India is hosting the event which is also featuring invitees Kuwait and Lebanon.
India, who recently won the Inter-Continental Cup, on Wednesday overwhelmed Pakistan 4-0 to take a bright start to their title defence thanks to skipper Sunil Chhetri’s fine hat-trick which took his international goal tally to 90.
India have to their credit record eight crowns of the SAFF Cup.
“We reached here just before India’s game, had a shower and took our lunch before going for the venue which is close but it takes around half an hour if you go by bus,” Shehzad said.” We had played three matches in Mauritius on an artificial pitch and here we played on a soft grassy surface and it was raining. We conceded the first goal due to a huge blunder. India struck their second on penalty, a controversial decision. India were also awarded another penalty on which they scored their third goal and if you see the fourth goal you will find that there was a big off-side,” he said.
However, Shehzad said they would deliver against Kuwait. “We will train today and also tomorrow before the Kuwait game and I am very much hopeful that we will play well against Kuwait,” he said.
“You will see inshaAllah a different Pakistan team against Kuwait which is a good side,” Shehzad was quick to add.
Asked if there was any plan to use some surprise packages against Kuwait, Shehzad said that Pakistan have a tight line-up and no one is surplus but very much part of the plans. “We have a fine unit and we are using the available resources as per requirement and situations,” Shehzad said.
Pakistan will face Kuwait on Saturday (tomorrow) before taking on Nepal in their final game on June 27.
In their Group A opener Kuwait defeated Nepal 3-1 on Wednesday.
The Group B contains Maldives, Lebanon, Bangladesh and Bhutan. On Thursday Lebanon downed Bangladesh 2-0 with two late strikes.
It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee had requested SAFF body to reschedule Pakistan’s match against India but their request had been turned down.
Pakistani players, while coming from Mauritius to Bengaluru after delayed visas endorsement at the Indian High Commission in Mauritius, had to face huge difficulty at the Mumbai Airport Immigration which wasted their time. And as a result one group of the team had to miss a flight to Bengaluru which contained most of the key players of the brigade.
There was no one from the SAFF Cup hosts at the Mumbai Airport to assist Pakistan team which could have expedited the process and the team could have reached Bengaluru at least nine hours before the match.
However, Shehzad said that they were being looked after well in Bengaluru. “Here we are properly looked after. Pakistan, Nepal and Maldives are in the same hotel which is of good standard and food is also fine. Here we have got those facilities which we missed in Mauritius,” said Shehzad, a Pro License coach.