Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
Amidst 6000 roaring home supporters, the Lions of Khorasan overpowered the Pak Shaheens with uncommon ease. Cruising to a 3-0 defeat, Pakistan were devoid of any creativity in the middle and struggled to create chances.
Yes, some of the goals conceded were poor and yes Pakistan’s strikers were abyssal, but this was expected.
Firstly the viewers, who watched PTV Sport’s live coverage of the game, should understand that Pakistan did not have any of their foreign-based players at their disposal, while on the other hand, Afghanistan had 10 and most of them played a vital role in winning at the AFF Stadium.
Adnan Ahmed, the cultured former Manchester United midfielder who now plays for Drolysdon in the UK, was not in the squad and his absence on the pitch was clearly felt. Even Kaleem, who is usually quite thoughtful with his passes, opted for aimless long balls that only gifted Afghanistan more possession.
Yasir Afridi, although a sound cog in the passing routine, was far from satisfactory in terms of defence and let the Afghans run dominant in the middle of the park.
In his stead, Pakistan usually have Yacoob Butt, who plays in Denmark and has shown his reliability by keeping possession and even scoring when necessary.
And in the SAFF Championship, the versatile Butt should definitely be given a starting berth with perhaps Afridi continuing along with him.
The wings were pitifully left unscathed with Afghan skipper Zohaib Islam Amiri getting little heat from Muhammad Adil, who was often wasteful in possession and missed several chances to capitalize on set-pieces too.
Adil clearly has to improve his showings in Nepal and could perhaps be bolstered with Saddam Hussain playing on the other flank.
KRL’s Saddam started as a right-back and was exploited gleefully by the onslaught of Afghani attackers, something which raises a lot of concern for Zavisa.
The former Lesotho boss tried an emphatic long-ball strategy that ultimately resulted in nothing less than a shocking performance. Pakistan never had possession and failed to create anything of note, while the pressure on the fragile defence continued to rise.
However, the Serbian can rectify the situation by playing Samar Ishaq on the right and opting for Bradford Park Avenue’s Amjad Iqbal in the centre alongside Kamran.
Kamran was relatively solid throughout the game except for the momentarily lapse that allowed Afghanistan to score their second. But the more pressing issue is of Saqib Hanif, who had a howler and was at fault for the opening goal.
Denmark-based goalkeeper Yousuf Butt is now expected to take his place for the SAFF Championship, which will hopefully increase coordination and communication between the goalie and the backline.
Despite the trouncing, one positive did emerge from the game and that was Kaleemullah.
Reiterating his desire to start as a striker, the Chaman-born forward was seemingly denied this request and anchored the midfield as Pakistan failed to control the ball up-front.
However, when given the chance to shine, Kaleem rattled the Afghani defence for sure and wowed the audience with his dribbling ability.
Surely the KRL talisman now deserves a chance to shine for his country as a first-choice striker?
That maybe so, but young Muhammad Riaz also put up a valiant effort and was one of the brightest Pakistani players when coming on the pitch. Despite making his debut, SFL’s young player of the year had ice in his veins and it was his speculative try late in the game that finally caused a bit of trouble for Oldenburg’s Mansur Faqiryar.
With only local players included in the squad, this just goes to show that Pakistan without Hassan Bashir, Yacoob Butt, Yousuf Butt, Adnan Ahmed and Amjad Iqbal will struggle beat local opposition, let alone challenge for glory in Asia.