New Delhi. The football teams of India and Pakistan will see each other after almost five years as the two neighbors have been drawn in the same group for the SAIF Cup to be held in Bengaluru from June 21 to July 4.
The draw for the 14th edition of the South Asian Football Confederation (SAIF) Cup was held here on Wednesday in which defending champions India, Pakistan, Kuwait and Nepal were placed in Group A while Lebanon, Maldives, Bangladesh and Bhutan were placed in Group B. The matches will be played on a round-robin format and the top two teams in each group will qualify for the semi-finals. This eight-nation tournament will be played at the Kantirva Stadium.
To make the tournament more competitive, two countries outside South Asia, Lebanon and Kuwait, have been invited to play in the tournament. Lebanon is the best ranked team participating in the tournament with 99th position. Pakistan’s ranking is the worst at 195th. India is the second best ranked team with 101st position. India and Pakistan last met in September 2018 during the 12th season of SAIF Cup in Dhaka. India won the match 3-1 but lost 1-2 against Maldives in the final.
India and Pakistan have officially played more than 20 international matches in total. In these, India has won more than a dozen matches while dominating. India has won the SAIF Cup title eight times while it was the runner-up four times. India only failed to reach the finals during the fifth season in Dhaka in 2003. The team then finished third. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) hopes that Pakistan’s players and support staff will get visas to participate in the tournament.
AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey said after the draw, “Pakistan has confirmed to participate in the tournament, so here is their name in the draw.” All the countries of the South Asian region have the right to play in this tournament.” He said, “But issuing visas, providing security to the team, these are not the tasks of any country’s football federation. The AIFF administration will coordinate with the concerned ministries of the government and we will get a response in due course of time.” AIFF General Secretary Shaji Prabhakaran told PTI that the Pakistani team has applied for visas to visit India and the application process has started. is
Prabhakaran said, “We do not see any issue here. They (Pakistani teams) have already applied for visas and the process has started.” The reason was that it could not send its team to the 2015 tournament held in India, while the team could not even play in the 2021 tournament in Maldives due to suspension from FIFA. FIFA had lifted the suspension on Pakistan in June last year. Asked if the AIFF had received any assurance from the government for the safe conduct of the tournament, Chaubey said, “FIFA’s (world governing body) slogan is That FIFA unites the world through football. AIFF is a member association of FIFA.
He said, “We do not consider caste, creed and religion under the FIFA charter. When a player enters the field wearing his national jersey, you don’t see the caste and religion of that player, the player represents his country. SAIF Secretary General Anwar-ul-Haq said the participating countries have assured the organizers that they will send their strong national teams.
“We can assure you that Lebanon, Kuwait and all other participating teams will send their strong national teams,” he said.
“We could have brought other countries suggested by AIFF for the tournament but their national teams were busy and we didn’t want any age group teams for this tournament,” said Anwar.