by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: Pakistan Under-23 football team will be looking to take a prestigious start when they face strong Japan in their 2024 Under-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers Group D opener at the Shaikh Ali bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Stadium at Muharraq Club in Arad town in Bahrain on Wednesday (today).
The match begins at 11:30 pm PST.
Pakistan team on Tuesday held its second training session under floodlights on a hybrid pitch. This correspondent learnt on Tuesday that the weather is a bit hot in Bahrain. Pakistan team is staying at a hotel near Manama Airport and it hardly takes the team 45 minutes to reach the venue.
Pakistan team arrived in Bahrain on Monday following two-week training, ten days in Abbottabad and four days in Lahore. In Abbottabad, due to lack of facilities and no keen involvement of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee, the players did not train well. And it will not be an easy start for the national brigade which carries nine players who have been part of the Pakistan senior team during its preparations for the last one year.
This correspondent also learnt that Denmark-based defender Abdullah Iqbal and former Queens Park Rangers (QPR) midfielder Harun Hamid have joined the team and are in good shape.
This correspondent understands that head coach Shehzad Anwar wanted to have five overseas players in the side for the qualifiers but the PFF NC’s top brass did not accept the recommendations and asked the team management that it cannot give them tickets and only two diasporas should be part of the touring party.
Pakistan team also lack a proper assistant coach and surprisingly the brigade has the assistance of a physio and a doctor. Despite the issues Pakistan’s head coach Shehzad Anwar said that they would try their level best to produce the desired results.
“Yes it’s a fact that we did not get the time which we needed for training. We hardly trained for two weeks. Two weeks training is also enough if you have a solid domestic system but if you lack domestic football then you need at least six weeks for training,” Shehzad told The News from Bahrain.
“You know Japan is a strong side and we will play against them keeping in view their strength. Hope the boys will live up to the expectations,” he said.
Hosts Bahrain and Palestine are the other teams in Pakistan’s group. 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.
Meanwhile, Japan’s coach Go Oiwa said their entire focus is on their game against Pakistan which is direly needed to win if they are to build the momentum. “In order to build ourselves a positive momentum ahead of the second and third match we want to focus on the opening match against Pakistan,” Oiwa said.
“When comparing our opponents there are not many that have been active in the same age bracket as we have, which makes it challenging to analyse their strategy,” he said. ”As a result I believe we may encounter tactics that are stronger or extremely different from what we anticipated so it will be crucial to maintain a same margin for error and stay alerted from the minute we enter the pitch,” he said.
Goalkeepers: Salman ul Haq, Hassan Ali and Usman Ali;
Defenders: Mohammad Sohail, Mohib Ullah, Haseeb Ahmed Khan, Mohammad Sufyan, Syed Abdullah Shah, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Saeed Khan and Abdullah Iqbal;
Midfielders: Mohammad Hayan Khattak, Mohammad Taha, Zaid Umar, Nizam Uddin, Alamgir Ghazi and Harun Hamid;
Forwards: Shayak Dost, Moin Ahmed, Mohammad Waheed, Mohammad Waleed, Hamza Ahmed and Fareed Ullah
Officials: Shahzad Anwar (head coach), Walid Javaid (Assistant Coach), Chaudary Nouman Ibrahim (goalkeeping coach), Muhammad Shoaib (media), Zubair Abdullah (physio), Muhammad Azam (doctor), Abdul Qayyum (masseur), Osama Ahmad (team manager).