by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: Pakistan’s football authorities are busy in negotiation in order to decide how to handle the country’s participation in a handful of international events including the 2026 World Cup Qualifiers’ first round matches against Cambodia.
Several meetings have already been held in which the most important matters relating to camps, friendly matches, NOCs, finances and other issues have been discussed in different sessions.
Some more meetings are in pipeline and in the next few days the actual picture will become clear. The big task before the authorities is to decide whether there should be a joint camp for both the senior and Under-23 sides or there should be separate camps and both sides should have separate coaching staff.
Pakistan senior team will play against Cambodia in the World Cup Qualifiers on October 12 and 17. The showdowns will be played on home and away basis.
On the other hand, Pakistan Under-23 side will feature in the 2024 Asian U23 Cup Qualifiers which will be held in September this year.
And the biggest issue which the authorities will have to tackle judiciously is how to utilise the September FIFA window for the senior team.
If September window is not utilised and the senior side is not given a couple of international matches in that window it will affect its preparation for the World Cup Qualifiers first round against Cambodia.
Although there are around 70 percent of players of the senior side who also will be part of the Under-23 line-up and they will get a few matches but some seniors will be deprived of exposure if September window is not capitalized on.
As both FIFA window and U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers fall in September so it will be extremely important for the authorities to have separate camps and coaching staff for both sides.
If FIFA window in September is wasted then it will deprive the national team to properly get gelled ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers. The diaspora players will join the elite side only one or two days before the first leg against Cambodia and keeping in view this aspect the utility of the FIFA window is very important.
The authorities also have to field their under-16 and Under-19 teams in their respective SAFF Championships in September. The PFF Normalisation Committee thinks that it would not be possible to ensure the participation in so many events due to financial matters.
This correspondent has learnt that NC also has been in negotiation with FIFA and AFC regarding finances for fielding the national sides in these events as it will cost NC a huge money.
Moreover Pakistan will also have to host Cambodia for the home leg of the Qualifiers which is another major challenge before NC to tackle.
NC will need a venue for the purpose which will need to meet FIFA’s requirements. The Punjab Stadium Lahore could act as venue for the home leg but the provincial government authorities will have to vacate a few rooms which could be utilized as changing rooms for players and sitting areas for the technical officials of the showpiece.
The News has learnt that NC’s operation department is also considering applying for NOC for getting state’s nod for the World Cup Qualifiers and other events in time.
NC had to face big issues in getting NOCs for both men’s and women’s teams recently due to late submission of applications for the purpose. Pakistan’s senior team’s management has already given its suggestions to NC relating to the senior team’s preparations for the World Cup Qualifiers.