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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pakistan to end sporting isolation thanks to football

 Pakistan’s football chiefs are looking to end the country’s sporting isolation by hosting two international teams in Karachi and Lahore in March this year.
Pakistan will first host Palestine’s national football team for two international friendlies followed by a potentially-explosive match of the Olympic qualifiers against Malaysia in Lahore.
“At a time when sports teams are not coming to Pakistan, we have succeeded in breaking the ice by confirming matches against Palestine and Malaysia on home soil,” said Faisal Saleh Hayat, president of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
Pakistan, hit hard by suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks in recent years, has literally become a no-go zone for international sportspersons after Sri Lanka’s cricket team was ambushed by gunmen in Lahore in March 2009. Several Sri Lankan cricketers and team officials were injured in the attack that claimed the lives of six Pakistanis, mostly policemen.
The country, which was once a major destination for international cricket, hockey and squash, hasn’t hosted any worthwhile international sporting event in years.
The country was stripped of its status as a co-host of ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, which will be played in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka from February 19-April 2 after most of the 14 participating teams refused to play in the violence-hit country.
The last time Pakistan hosted a major hockey tournament was in 2004 when it staged the elite Champions Trophy in Lahore.
Repeated attempts by cricket and hockey chiefs to lure foreign teams to Pakistan have failed in recent times.
However, PFF has succeeded where the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) have failed and Hayat believes that it is a good sign for football, which has failed to really pick up in this sports-mad country.
“The more international matches we play, the more the team would develop at least to Asian standards. Football is not like hockey or cricket as they are played in a few countries. The competition is very tough in football,” said Faisal Hayat, a veteran politician.
According to PFF’s schedule, Palestine will arrive here late in February and will play against Pakistan in their opening match in Lahore on March 1. It will head back home after meeting Pakistan again on March 4 in Karachi. The two games will be followed by an Olympic qualifying clash against Malaysia on March 9 in Lahore.
Four-time South Asian champions Pakistan plan to pay a return visit to Palestine in April-May this year.
Despite being run on a shoe-string budget, Pakistan who are regarded among minnows even in Asian football have surprisingly good results against teams like Kyrgyzstan, Chinese Taipei, Turkmenistan, Singapore, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal in recent times.
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