Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
The Lions of Khorasan will welcome their neighbours to Kabul, as Afghanistan host their first International game in over a decade.
Under Zavisa Milosavljević’s guidance, the Pak Shaheens put up a valiant effort in February 2013, where they beat Nepal 1-0 twice at home as preparation for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers.
Proceeding to Maldives next, Pakistan put up a good fight in the first game, managing to draw 1-1 courtesy of Yacoob Butt’s injury time goal. However, they were trounced 3-0 in the final tie and ultimately lost their Challenge Cup bid after narrowly losing to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
While Zavisa managed a 2-0 win over Macau, his real comes against Afghanistan tomorrow, who are the region’s top ranked team.
Following their sensational run in the 2011 SAFF Cup, the Afghans have gone from strength to strength, qualifying for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup in March and cementing their place as favourites for this year’s South Asian championship.
Manager Yousef Kargar was primarily responsible for the glowing accolades, but due to his five-match ban, the lime-light will be on his temporary replacement; Argentina’s Juan Marpcos.
Zavisa’s biggest worry will be the lack of foreign players, which have been primarily behind Pakistan’s positive performances. The likes of Hassan Bashir, Yacoob Butt, Yousuf Butt, Amjad Iqbal, Adnan Ahmed and Muhammad Ali will be sorely missed, with the pressure squarely falling on the local boys.
With Amjad not coming, KRL’s star duo Samar Ishaq and Kamran Khan will continue to cement their centre-back pairing, while their fellow club teammate Ahsanullah could possibly be given a start as a right-back.
WAPDA’s Mohammad Ahmed has done a decent job so far as a left-back and Zavisa is unlikely to remove him from his position.
In midfield, Zia-us-Salam and Yasir Afridi will have their hands full against the Afghans and will hope to provide ammunition on the wings, which hopefully Saddam Hussain and Muhammad Adil will be able to exploit.
Kaleemullah’s superb scoring record in the AFC President’s Cup means that he is a first-choice starter up-front with either Muslim FC’s Saeed Ahmad or PAF’s Muhammad Mujahid partnering him.
Owing to Jaffar Khan’s injury and Yousuf Butt’s unavailability, Saqib Hanif is a sure-stop starter and will look to put up a fight in order to secure his place in the side for next month’s showcase tournament in Nepal.
The Lions have called up nearly 10 foreign-based players in their bid for supremacy and certainly first-choice strikers Belal Arezou and Sandjar Ahmadi will be eager to get on the score-sheet.
With the absence of influential midfielder Israfeel Kohistani, other play-makers from abroad including Ata Yamrali, Mohammad Mashriqi, Mustafa Azadzoi and Ahmad Arash Hatifie are expected to start.
Captain Djelaludin Sharityar will have to sit this one out, meaning that Zohaib Islam Amiri will lead from the back alongside Muqadar Qazizadah, Mujtaba Faiz and Faisal Sakhizada.
Without the services of Hassan and Ali, all eyes will be on the KRL superstar, who has often asked for a chance to shine up-front for Pakistan in the past.
Afghanistan: Belal Arezou
The star of the Afghan side, Arezou recently completed a stint in the I-League with Churchill Brothers and will be looking to continue his fine International form against a weakened Pakistani side when the match kicks off tomorrow at the AFF Stadium.
Ahsanullah-Kamran-Samar-Ahmad Qazizadah- Amiri- Faiz- Sakhizada
Adil-Yasir-Zia-Saddam Yamrali- Mashriqi- Azadzoi- Hatifie
Afghanistan 3:1 Pakistan