The SAFF Suzuki Cup tournament is being held in the Indian state of Kerala from December 23-January 3 and Pakistan face arch-rivals India in a high-profile game on the opening day at the Trivandrum Stadium. apart from hosts India, they will play Nepal and Sri Lanka in Group ‘A’ of South Asia’s marquee football tournament.
The Shaheens then face Nepal on December 25th before rounding off their Group ‘A’ campaign against Sri Lanka two days later and the national team can count themselves fortunate for being drawn in the easier group of the two.
Group ‘B’ has defending champions Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh – with all four teams playing in the second round of 2018 World Cup qualifying where they are rubbing their shoulders with the giants of Asian football.
Those meetings with the likes of Japan, Australia, Qatar and China have resulted in heavy defeats for the South Asian minnows but nevertheless the experience of playing against the big boys is slowly but surely contributing to improvement of the teams.
Pakistan, looking to advance from the group stage of the SAFF Cup for the first time since 2005, fell at the first round of qualifying for the FIFA showpiece in Russia and hence are missing out on the experience of playing against the continent’s heavyweights after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) revamped the World Cup qualifying procedure.
Nepal and Sri Lanka also crashed out at the first hurdle though the former will have a chance for revenge when they face India, who made it to the second round of World Cup qualifying at their expense.
Pakistan and India also met in their opening game of the last edition in Nepal – the Indians winning it 1-0 – but it remains to be seen how the national team prepares for the biggest tournament it plays at least until 2017.
The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has split into two factions after severe infighting over the last several months with allegations of corruption, mismanagement and incompetency coming to the fore.
World’s football governing body FIFA will discuss the Pakistan issue at its Associations Committee meeting on Sept 21.