Pakistan to reach Bangalore hours before SAFF Cup opener [Dawn]

Pakistan to reach Bangalore hours before SAFF Cup opener [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will touch down Bangalore hours before their highly-anticipated clash with India on Wednesday but there is no chance that their Group ‘A’ opener of the SAFF Championship will be rescheduled to allow them time to rest and recuperate.

“We have already informed the PFF about our inability to reschedule their match as several stakeholders are involved and it may jeopardise the championship,” South Asian Football Federation general secretary Anwarul Haque Helal told Dawn on Tuesday, just as the Pakistan team were arriving at the airport in the Mauritian capital of Port Louis to board their flight to India.

Pakistan, who also play Kuwait and Nepal in their other Group ‘A’ games, were initially due to leave for India from Mauritius, where they featured in the Four Nations Series, on Sunday but with visas not issued to the team, they were forced to miss their scheduled flight.

They eventually received their visas on Monday evening with the PFF NC informing that they had secured tickets for the 5:20pm flight to Mumbai from Port Louis. From there, they will take a domestic flight to Bangalore, the host city for the 14th edition of South Asia’s showpiece tournament.

It means the national team, which lost all their three matches in Mauritius to the hosts, Kenya and Djibouti respectively, will not be able to train in Bangalore ahead of their match against India at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

“We did light training in the morning today, which will be our last practice session before the match,” Pakistan head coach Shehzad Anwar told Dawn on Tuesday, before the team boarded the flight to India. “It’s a tough ask for us to go there and straight to the match but we will try to give our best.”

There were reports that the All India Football Federation was willing to accommodate a request by the PFF NC to reschedule the match to a later date. AIFF secretary general Shaji Prabhakaran, however, said that any tweak in the schedule could only be done by SAFF. “Unfortunately, we have no role in it,” Prabhakaran told Dawn on Tuesday.

Unlike Pakistan, India come into the tournament on a winning high after they beat Lebanon in the final of the Intercontinental Cup on Sunday. The tournament also featured Mongolia and Vanuatu but India head coach Igor Stimac warned that Pakistan have the ability to spring a surprise.

“They could be the surprise package of the tournament,” Stimac told the pre-tournament press conference in Bangalore on Tuesday. “They have a very good team, and it does not matter that they have not got the results going their way recently.

“I watched the replay of the Pakistan-Kenya game where Pakistan [who lost 1-0] were the better side away from home. They created more chances and were more aggressive. They have a few players who have been developed abroad.”

Stimac was also asked whether Pakistan would be affected by their delayed arrival for the tournament. “They played three games in the last 10 days so they are in a good competitive mood,” he said.

Nepal gaffer Vincenzo Alberto Annese, sitting alongside Stimac and Kuwait coach Rui Bento, said his side were looking forward to facing “strong opponents and we hope we play a good game”.

Bento, meanwhile, said Kuwait, who are not members of SAFF but are one of two invited teams for the tournament alongside Lebanon, expect a tough tournament especially with the Kanteerava Stadium having an artificial turf.

“The weather is different here but it’s the same for all teams,” he told reporters. “We are a bit afraid about the playing field and we hope its quality remains the same despite the frequent rainfall here.”

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2023