Pak U23 team management faces huge challenge [The News]

Pak U23 team management faces huge challenge [The News]

by Alam Zeb Safi

LAHORE: Pakistan Under-23 football team management will face a huge challenge to prepare the national lot just inside two weeks for the 2024 Under-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers which will be held in Bahrain early next month.

The authorities on Wednesday announced the 34 probables for the camp which will begin at the Kunj Ground at Abbottabad on Thursday (today).

“Yes, it’s a challenging task,” Pakistan head coach Shehzad Anwar told ‘The News’ from Abbottabad. “There are several factors which can affect the performance. If they are fine so performance will also be fine and if they are ignored it will definitely hurt the cause,” Shehzad said.

“In football continuity is very important. But we have tried to keep the boys engaged and they have been training individually. There are a few players who we allowed to represent their own teams. The players who are in Islamabad or near it were playing in the Islamabad League. The diaspora players, you know, are already engaged,” Shehzad said.

“There are a few youngsters who performed in the previous events and the crop which has come up as a result of talent hunt programme conducted under qualified coaches so we have to be very calculated,” Shehzad said. “We have two weeks at our disposal. Our main focus will be to integrate the players so that the squad could adopt a shape of a unit and how we could gel the brigade ahead of the Qualifiers.

We cannot put extraordinary load on the players but the formation in which we will play will be the main focus,” he said.

In the Qualifiers, Pakistan have been clubbed with strong Japan, Bahrain and Palestine in Group D. The Green-shirts will play their opener against Japan on September 6, followed by their matches against Bahrain on September 9 and Palestine on September 12.

The 43 nations have been clubbed in 11 groups. The top team from each group and four best runners-up will join hosts Qatar in the Asian Cup in Qatar next year.

Shehzad admitted that Pakistan’s group is tough. “You know we have been clubbed with Asian champion Japan. There is no doubt that there is a huge difference between Pakistan and Japan. Japan’s team, which will play against us, is a well-gelled unit as it has been playing together for the last couple of years. They also have played games against England, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. They have played close games against these top teams. It’s really difficult to play with them but we should be realistic. We want to see our young crop deliver against such a major team. It will be a learning experience when we play against Japan,” Shehzad said.

Quite surprisingly the authorities have chosen Abbottabad for the camp. In Abbottabad the temperature is normal while in Bahrain in the first week of September it will be hot.

“Here we have a grassy pitch and when we get the final word on which type of pitch we will have to play in Bahrain then we may move the camp to any other place. It is also possible that we move to Bahrain a few days earlier,” said Shehzad when asked whether they will play the Qualifiers on an artificial pitch.

In the probables list there are a dozen of such players who have been part of the Pakistan senior team in its recent engagements.

“The diaspora players will be confirmed tomorrow. They will come mostly here to join the team before leaving for Bahrain. There will be two players who will join us in Bahrain because of their club commitments. Abdullah Iqbal will have his club game on September 2 and we are requesting him to join us early. If he does not do so, he will join on September 2. Abdul Samad Shehzad of Denmark may also join us in Bahrain. Harun Hamid will also come here,” Shehzad said.

“There will be six or seven diaspora players in the squad,” Shehzad said.

Camp probables: Goalkeepers: Salman-Ul-Haq, Usman Ali, Hassan Ali and Asif Ullah; Defenders: Saeed Khan, Zain-Ul-Abideen, Mohammad Abdullah, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Sardar Wali, Abdul Rehman, Abdullah Shah, Mohib Afridi, Mohammad Sufyan, Mohammad Sohail Syed Junaid Shah; Midfielders: Faheem Ullah, Touqeer Ul Hassan, Mohammad Baseer, Zaid Umer, Mohammad Taha, Alamgir Ghazi, Nizam, Hayyan Khattak, Mazhar Ghaffar, Ali Raza; Forwards: Shayek Dost, Mohammad Waleed Khan, Moin Ahmed, Mohammad Waheed, Fareed Ullah, Adeel Younas, Hamza Ahmed, Faraz Mehmood and Hammad Hassan.