KARACHI: The Pakistan football team will take part in a four-nation tournament in Nepal later this month — the first time it will play competitive matches since June last year when it was knocked out of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying in the first round.

Apart from the hosts and Pakistan, Maldives and Afhanistan are reportedly the other two teams who will be taking part in the Madan Bhandari Memorial International Football Tournament which is being organised by the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) from February 27 to March 7.

The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee announced in a news release on Monday that the camp for the selection of the team will be held in Karachi from February 15 to 24.

The PFF has gone with almost the same team management that was in-charge during the national team’s training tour of Malaysia last month where they played two matches against local clubs.

Tariq Lutfi has been named head coach with Ayaz Butt being given managerial duties. Nasir Ismail is the only new addition after the Malaysia tour and he will be the assistant coach alongside Gohar Zaman. Jaffar Khan is the goalkeeping coach. During the tour of Malaysia, Pakistan drew 2-2 with second-division UKM FC before beating top-tier Felda United 2-0.

That tour was a timely boost for the national team which has suffered badly in recent years due to a long-running crisis in the PFF which was resolved in September last year when global football body FIFA appointed a Normalisation Committee to oversee PFF matters.

In Nepal, the national team will get at least three competitive matches with the tournament set to be played on a round-robin format. It could be four matches if Pakistan finish in the top two and reach the final.

Losing to Cambodia in the first round of the joint qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup has come at a huge cost to the Pakistan team which faces a severe lack of competitive matches for the next three years. Unlike Pakistan, the other four teams in the four-nation tournament are all in the second round of qualifying.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2020

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