Pakistan: Malaysia qualifier major step forward

KARACHI - Pakistan will take another step towards reestablishing the country as a host of international sporting events when the nation's Olympic football team host Malaysia in a qualifier for the London Games on Wednesday.

The AFC Preliminary Round second leg contest takes place at the Punjab stadium in Lahore, where in March 2009 the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by militants.

The attack left six Pakistani policemen and a van driver dead and wounded five of the visiting players, leading to a virtual shutdown of Pakistan as an international sporting venue.

However, after hosting an international boxing tournament early last year in the southern port city of Karachi amidst heavy security, the Pakistan sports fraternity has gradually witnessed a tangible change in attitudes.

Last week, Palestine played two international football friendlies in Pakistan, the opening game was held in Lahore and it marked the first international sporting event to be held in the city since the attack. The second game was in Karachi.

"We hosted the [matches] against Palestine with considerable success. And now this qualifier against Malaysia. It shows that international competition is slowly returning to our country," Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) secretary Ahmed Lodhi told reporters.

He pointed out that the large crowd that showed up for the match against Palestine last week at the same venue as the Malaysia qualifier proved that Pakistani people were desperate to see more international sports on home soil.

Malaysia are favourites to advance after winning the first leg 2-0 in Kuala Lumpur last week and their coach Ong Kim Swee is happy to be in Pakistan for the return fixture.

"It is great to be playing in Pakistan and the organisers have given us high level security. We are comfortable and we are focusing on the football itself," he said.

Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) president Arif Hasan has been buoyed by the return of international sport to the country and expects to see more events taking place in his homeland.

"Security has been an issue everywhere but we recently the successful National Games in Peshawar without an incident and now teams are more receptive to coming here," he said.


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