Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
The 22-year-old Kaleemullah can easily be termed the best emerging football star in the country.
The Chaman-based striker made his mark this year for the national side in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup qualifiers and the South Asian Football Championship, but also for his club Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), as they became the first Pakistani team to play the AFC President’s Cup final.
Kaleemullah scored a goal in March for Pakistan to ensure the consolation win in the Challenge Cup against Macau 2-0 and later in the SAFF Championship with a goal against Bangladesh.
But his true potential came through in the AFC President’s Cup, when he scored seven goals for KRL in the three rounds of the tournament, before making it to the final in September.
He scored five goals against Bhutan’s Yeezdin FC in the President’s Cup first round match in May, and later scored the all-important winner against Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi FC in the opening match of the second round of the tournament in September.
Kaleemullah was also the scorer in the crucial match against Palestine’s Hilal Al-Quds FC that helped KRL to book their place in the President’s Cup final against Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC, which they lost 1-0.
Despite the defeat, Kaleemullah remained the second highest goal scorer in the President’s Cup with seven international goals.
Kaleemullah’s journey throughout the year remained an exciting one, just like the overall scenario of Pakistan football that saw another change at the helm with Bahraini Mohamed Shamlan’s appointment as coach in August. He replaced Serbia’s Zavisa Milosavljevic as head coach after Pakistan’s devastating defeat 0-3 against Afghanistan in a friendly before Saff Championship.
Pakistan struggled in the AFC Challenge Cup, losing two out of three matches in March, and later failed to qualify for the SAFF Championship semi-finals. But the team improved on their rankings from 189 in January 2012 to 172 in December.
Pakistan’s best ranking was 167 this year in November. They won five, drew three and lost six out of the 14 matches played in 2013.