by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: Pakistan football team head coach Shehzad Anwar has said that the national squad for the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers will be finalised after the September FIFA Window.
“The replacements definitely will be there. We will finalise the squad for the World Cup Qualifiers after September FIFA Window,” Shehzad told ‘The News’ in an interview.
“We are still in the selection process. I have already said that it takes at least one year for players’ selection. Some players convince you in one match and to some you give two chances to prove themselves. We have tested all players in the matches which were at our disposal during the last few months and everyone was tested. Definitely there will be two to three changes in the squad for the World Cup Qualifiers,” Shehzad said.
“We will go for the best options inshaAllah,” Shehzad was quick to add.
FIFA World Cup Qualifiers will be held in October. The FIFA September Window will be from September 4 to 12 during which Pakistan will get a chance to play a couple of international friendlies.
As around 70 percent of Pakistan senior team comprises under-23 players these juniors will also get a chance to play their Group D matches against Japan, Bahrain and Palestine in the 2024 AFC Under-23 Championship Qualifiers which will be held from September 6-12.
Shehzad said that both events clash which will be an issue. “The issue is that both the events are in the same dates,” he said.
Shehzad’s charges recently flopped in the four-nation event in Mauritius and SAFF Cup in India, failing to win any game. However, the exposure will have helped Pakistan team management to know where they stand.
Asked whether he is satisfied with the growth of the team, Shehzad said that the recent matches were very important.
“The recent matches were very important in that the team got an opportunity to play against different oppositions. We played against African nations, West Asian nation (Kuwait) and our region’s top team India and Nepal. It gave us an insight into where we stand. We have a short time and we will have to bring improvement in the areas which are of concerns. We are now planning for September. We will look at the performance of Under-23 players in the AFC event and the availability of the diaspora players before finalising the squad for the World Cup Qualifiers,” he said.
Shehzad agreed that goalkeeping department in SAFF Cup was a failure. “It was a failure no doubt,” he said.
“Saqib Hanif is the best gloveman in Pakistan. And Yousuf Butt is an experienced goalie but both made mistakes. Mistakes happen but goalkeeper’s mistakes are more highlighted. They are good glovemen but it happens. We also have a few young Under-23 goalkeepers and they have the chance to prove themselves in the AFC Under-23 event. If we talk about the seniors Saqib and Yousuf were the best available glovemen,” Shehzad said.
“This time seasons had to end in May. But in December there was the World Cup and because of that the matches lasted until June 18. Abdullah Iqbal had to play on June 11 a very crucial game. It was his second last game on June 11 and the last show was on June 17. If a club says that it cannot release him so it can but still it said that he would join Pakistan team after June 11 game as from June 12 FIFA Window had to start,” he explained.
“And then some players were new like Easah Suliman, Otis Khan and Rahis Nabi. The thing is that this was also the first interaction of these boys with each other. Easah is a British national but he plays in Greece. Otis plays in England in the championship and Harun plays in QPR Under-21 and that is why their interaction there is also not possible,” he said.
“They joined the team on the match day and we had done just one combined training session,” he said.
“If you go back we had held two and a half months camp before our game against Nepal. Then before our game against Maldives one round of Challenge Cup had been held and the players’ continuity in training was there and then we held one-month camp before going to Maldives and there our performance was good. After return from Maldives there was no activity due to Ramadan. After Ramadan National Games matter came which were rescheduled several times and on May 23 these Games ended,” he said.