Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Former skipper Zesh Rehman hopes that the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and his club Pahang FA reach an agreement to allow him to feature in the first round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in March.
The former Fulham defender, who led Pakistan in the 2013 Philippines Peace Cup, has been in international wilderness since with Pakistan’s Bahraini head-coach Mohammed Al Shamlan focusing on local-based players.
But the PFF has since softened their stance towards the country’s foreign-based players, asking them to attend at least 10 days of the training camp, which is expected to start from Jan 10, to move into contention for national team selection.
Pakistan’s FIFA ranking of 188th — and 43rd in Asia — means they have to negotiate a two-legged first-round game to enter the second round.
The 2018 World Cup qualifiers also double up with qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup.
The winners of the eight-five team groups in the second round advance into the third round of the World Cup qualifiers along with the four best second-placed teams.
Those 12 teams will also seal a berth at the Asian Cup with the next best 24 teams to vie for the remaining 12 slots on offer for the continental competition.
And Zesh hopes to play a part in the first round of the qualifiers with Pakistan set to know their opponents in the Feb 10 draw.
“It would be a challenge to miss league games for an international that is not on a FIFA date because the club is paying my salary which is my bread and butter,” Zesh, who helped Pahang with the Malaysia Cup and the Malaysian FA Cup last year, told Dawn on Monday.
“I’m hopeful we can agree on something as Shamlan has known me for a decade and he knows exactly what I can do.”
The first-round matches will be played on March 12 and 17, which is outside the dates set by FIFA of March 23-31 on their international match calendar.
“I love playing for Pakistan which was reflected by my performances in the Peace Cup [where Pakistan ended as runners-up to the hosts] and to get a place in the SAFF Championship team of the tournament,” he added.
“Hopefully Pahang and the PFF can reach an agreement that suits all parties so I can play in the games.”
Zesh also questioned the need for attending the camp for 10 days to get into the reckoning for selection.
“The 10-day camp is probably a bit too long in all honesty but it could be possible if it was shorter because there are often small breaks in the fixtures in the Malaysian Super League,” he said, adding there are ramifications for foreign-based players when it comes to missing key games for their clubs.
“Players plying their trade outside Pakistan do not want special treatment,” he said. “We are just being realistic about the consequences of breaches of club contracts.”
Meanwhile, Denmark-based striker Hassan Bashir said he is willing to rescind his contract with his club to represent Pakistan.
Hassan, who earlier said it would be a “difficult situation” considering the mandatory 10-day camp attendance, on Monday said he wouldn’t mind leaving Danish second-division side Fremad Amager for international duty.
“The last thing I would do is to not play for Pakistan,” he told Dawn on Monday. “ I would break my contract to play for the country.”
Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2015