The Pakistan men’s football team is all set to compete in the 2023 SAFF Championship after finally being granted visas by the Indian government on Monday.

All India Football Federation secretary general Shaji Prabhakaran confirmed the development on Twitter on Monday night.

Shahid Khokhar, a member of the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee, also confirmed the news to Sportstar. The team will fly to Indian from Mauritius where they were competing in a four nations cup.

“I would like to thank (AIFF general secretary) Shaji Prabhakaran and (AIFF president) Kalyan Choubey for doing so much from their end,” Khokhar told Sportstar. “It was thanks to them that we got the visa as quickly as we did. Normally, you get an Indian visa in person only, but we were able to get the visa in Mauritius (where the Pakistan team is playing a four-nation tournament). This allows us to travel directly to India and not have to fly back to Pakistan.”

Pakistan have been scheduled to play hosts India in their first match on June 21, hours after they land in Bengaluru.

The team has competed in all but two editions of the SAFF Championship. While it missed the 2015 edition due to issues within the federation, Pakistan could not compete at the 2021 edition as they were banned by Fifa. The ban was only lifted in 2022.

The last time Pakistan played football in India was in 2014, when they drew a two-match series, but they also faced off in the SAFF Championship in Bangladesh in 2018, with India winning 3-1.

The participation of Pakistan in the Bengaluru event has raised hopes Islamabad will take part in the ICC World Cup cricket tournament hosted by India later this year, having earlier threatened to boycott the event.

“As devoted sportsmen, we understand the power of sports in transcending political boundaries and fostering strong relationships between nations,” Pakistan captain Yousaf Butt told AFP.

He was speaking from Mauritius, where Pakistan has taken part in a four-nation event.

“We will put in a worthy performance despite zero sleep and jetlag – and off the field will try to win hearts to ease the tension.”

The 32-strong touring party only received their visas late Monday.

The eight-nation SAFF Championship kicks off Wednesday, with Pakistan in Group A alongside India, Kuwait, and Nepal, and Group B featuring Lebanon, Maldives, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.

The final is scheduled for July 4.

With inputs from AFP