By Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: During the SAFF Championships in 2013, Hassan Bashir led Pakistan’s attack superbly.
So effective he was that many people were left guessing where Pakistan found such a potent target-man who could win the ball and distribute it with consummate ease.
He also did well at the Philippines Peace Cup later that year but he’s been in the wilderness for the last year.
With Pakistan’s Bahraini head-coach Mohammad Al Shamlan focusing on building the national team from solely local-based players, the striker who plays for Fremad Amager in the Danish second-division was ignored along with the country’s other foreign-based footballers.
The last year also saw four Pakistan players seal moves abroad but because those players left from local sides in the country, they aren’t classified as amongst the ‘foreign-based’ lot.
Pakistan captain Kaleemullah, winger Mohammad Adil and midfield dynamo Saddam Hussain left national champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) for Kyrgyz giants Dordoi Bishkek.
Wapda defender Mohammad Ahmed was snapped up by Bahrain’s second-division side Isa Town FC and while he, along with the former KRL trio, is regularly called up for national team games despite playing abroad, the others were not.
The explanation given is that they already have an understanding with the local-based mates while the others need to gel in the team.
Skipper Kaleem, though, said the team needed the foreign-based players in order to produce better results — even skipping the friendly against Palestine in October reportedly because of differences with Shamlan’s selection policy.
Results haven’t been kind as well — the 2-0 defeat to Palestine, along with the lack of international matches in the last year seeing the national team slump to a dismal 188th in the FIFA rankings.
What it’s also done is forced Shamlan to make a U-turn on his selection policy and with the first round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers looming in March, he’s agreed to give the foreign-based lot a chance provided they attend at least 10 days of the national team camp which begins from Jan 10.
But with the period between January to March representing a hectic club schedule for the clubs, it would be difficult for the players to come to Pakistan and attend the training camp.
The clubs can refuse to let the player leave for the national team unless it is an official FIFA match. That means a maximum of five days with the national team.
“To be honest it will be a difficult situation [for me],” Hassan told Dawn on Saturday.
“In my contract with my club, I’m only allowed to leave the club for official FIFA matches.
“But I have a huge desire to play for Pakistan so I will have to find out a solution with my club But then again it’s in the hands of the club.
“But if that’s what the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and Shamlan require from us that’s the way it is and hopefully I will find a solution.”
Like Hassan, former Fulham defender Zesh Rehman provided the steel in defence for Pakistan at the SAFF Championships and was also handed the captain’s armband for the Philippines Peace Cup, where he led Pakistan to the runners-up position.
Zesh — along with Hassan, Nabil Aslam, Mohammad Ali, Adnan Ahmed, Atif Bashir, Shabir Khan, Yousuf Butt, Yaqoob Butt and Amjad Iqbal — is expected to be called up for the training camp with PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi last week terming the World Cup qualifiers as “crucial”.
The Pahang FA centre-back remains Pakistan’s most high profile foreign-based player and unlike his other team-mates enjoyed a year of relative stability with his club, helping them win the Malaysian FA Cup and the Malaysian Cup last season.
And while he appears to be in a position to convince his club to grant him a leave for the training camp, others have struggled over the last year.
Nabil was once touted to form Pakistan’s first-choice defensive pairing alongside Zesh but the 30-year-old flattered to deceive and last week left Danish second-division side Akademisk BK for an undisclosed club in Thailand.
“Nabil has a new adventure in Thailand,” Akademisk said in a statement on their website. “When we signed him [in the summer from AC Horsens] we were aware he was looking for a club outside Denmark.”
Wing-back Shabir returned from a long-term injury for sixth-tier English club Worcester City on Thursday but hobbled off with a groin injury in their goalless draw against Hednesford Town.
It prompted his manager Carl Heeley to admit Shabir’s body “is feeling” the effects of numerous injuries suffered during his career.
Midfielder Adnan, whose side Nelson FC play in the ninth-tier of England’s league system, could also be unavailable for the camp with his club having a packed schedule leading up to May.
Another Britain-based player Atif, like Shabir, returned from a long-term injury last year but after failing to regain his place in Welsh third-tier side Barry Town, he joined league rivals Dinas Powys and has been in good form of late.
Denmark-based brothers Yousuf and Yaqoob haven’t been outstanding for their clubs recently nor has Mohammad Ali for another Danish side Svebolle but they can be available for the training camp due to the winter break currently underway.
Lack of form and lack of availability for Shamlan’s 10-day camp attendance might see some of them miss out on a place in the squad for the World Cup qualifiers, and sources told Dawn the PFF is trying to convince some Norway-based youngsters of Pakistani origin to represent the national team.
“They’ve been in good form and have shone at the highest level of Norwegian football so the PFF believes they would add a lot of quality to the squad,” the source said.
The players being mentioned are Etzaz Hussain, who helped Molde win the Tippeligaen, and Valerenga duo of Ali Iqbal and Ghayas Zahid. They’ve all represented Norway at junior levels.
While Etzaz and Ali are keen on breaking into Norway’s senior team, Ghayas said “it would be fun to play for Pakistan” in an interview with Norwegian daily Afterposten in July.
With the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) having merged qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2019 Asian Cup, this year is critical for Pakistan football.
If Pakistan advance from the first round playoff, the draw for which would be on Feb 10, they will be drawn into one of eight five-team groups.
The group winners, along with the four best second-place teams from each of the groups will advance to the third round of World Cup qualifying.
They will also qualify for the Asian Cup with the next best 24 teams playing in the third round of qualifying for the continent’s top event.
The 2019 Asian Cup will see 24 teams competing instead of the usual 16 who will take part in this year’s edition that starts next week in Australia.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2015