KARACHI, Feb 28: Playing for the `Barcelona` of Hong Kong, Pakistan defender Zesh Rehman is due something big for the national team.
The Kitchee FC centre-back put in a solid performance for his side in their AFC Cup opener against India`s Churchill FC on Tuesday as they won 3-0 despite being a man down.
The former Fulham defender is due to arrive in the country for the national team`s training camp for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers next month.
`We will receive confirmation on the dates of arrival of our foreign-based contingent on Friday,` Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn on Thursday.
Zesh, who has also featured for Thailand`s Muangthong United, is the country`s most popular foreign-based player and would be the key for Pakistan when they square off against sides like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Macau.
Pakistan`s first choice in central defence may be Zesh, but playing for the country was never his first choice although he holds no regrets.
`The call-up to England`s under-21 sidenever came,` he wrote in the Footballer`s Column for Daily Mail earlier this week.
`I thought `It doesn`t matter what I do, it`s not going to happen`. So I decided to play for Pakistan, where my parents are from.
Tve never regretted it.
On Tuesday, Zesh helped his side keep a clean sheet against Churchill Brothers in Asia`s second-tier club competition despite being reduced to ten men early in the second period.
He has been a rock at the back for his club since joining them last season and leading them to the league title.
Kitchee, who have a raft of international talent, are compared to Barca because of their slick passing style and their Spanish coach Josep Gombau, who was formerly associated with the Catalan club`s youth academy.
But despite his club heroics, Zesh has rarely produced the same tackle for Pakistan.
`Whenever he has played for the country, Zesh has been reluctant to go dive in for the ball,` Pakistan`s former defender Tanvir Ahmed, who played with the England-born player for the national side, said last month.
`He is very cautious although his technical abilities are superb. He doesn`t have the same passion for the national team as local players do, in fact, he simply doesn`t want torisk injuries [which would hamper his club commitments].
Pakistan`s hopes in the Challenge Cup hinge on Zesh performing.
`Foreign players bring a lot of quality to the team,` Pakistan`s Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevic told Dawn on Thursday. `They bring a lot of international experience and professionalism to the side.
And with Pakistan facing some tough opposition, Milosavljevic is hoping that their experience helps the national side.
`I hope they come to the national side in good form,` the Serb added, `as it is our toughest assignment in the last two years.
`They [foreign-based players] have the big match temperament and have the guile and character to take the team out of sticky situations and Fm counting on them for the AFC Challenge Cup.
Zesh would be joined by six other foreign-based players in the Pakistan squad for the Challenge Cup assignment.
England-based Adnan Ahmed and Shabir Khan along with the Denmark-based quartet of Hassan Bashir, Yousuf Butt, Yaqoob Butt and Mohammad Ali have been named in the squad for the Challenge Cup.
Midfielder Adnan, a Manchester United academy product, is also in good form and scored for his new side Droylsden on Tuesday, a week after join-ing them from Nelson FC.
The 28-year-old Adnan scored in Droylsden`s dramatic 3-2 win against Hinckley United as they look to avoid relegation from England`s Conference North.
Things are slightly different for 27-yearold left-back Shabir Khan.
Shabir, who wasn`t featuring for his side Worcester City, was loaned to Halesowen Town but he hasn`t seen much game time.
A part of Pakistan`s successful tour of Nepal and Maldives along with the Danishbased quartet earlier this month, he is taking solace in putting his best foot forward for Pakistan.
`It`s an honour to be able to play for Pakistan and it is a great experience,` he told Worcester News in an interview.
Milosavljevic, meanwhile, is pleased with the performances of goalkeeper Yousuf, defender Yaqoob along with the strike duo of Hassan and Ali who impressed in Nepal and Maldives.
The AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers will be held in Kyrgyzstan with Pakistan opening their Group `B` campaign against Tajikistan on March 17 before squaring off against the hosts on March 19 and facing Macau two days later. The group winners and the two best second-placed teams advance to the finals which will be held in the Maldives next year.