By Alam Zeb Safi
Pakistan football team coach Mohammad Shamlan on Sunday stated that if his charges played with full focus against Yemen in the qualifiers for 2018 Russia World Cup, they could overcome them.
“Yes, if my players played with full focus for the 90 minutes and did not make stupid mistakes then I am optimistic that the result would go in our favour,” Shamlan told ‘The News’ from Lahore.
Yemen will host Pakistan in the first leg at a neutral venue in Doha on March 12. The second leg will be hosted by Pakistan in Lahore on March 17.
Shamlan was quick to add that he had great respect for Yemen. “Yemen are the best side of the 12 teams of Asia drawn against each other for the first round of the qualifiers. They have some good players but I am not worried as Pakistan is also a good team,” said Shamlan, a former Bahraini defender.
He pointed out that their rivals had some weaknesses too.
“No doubt they are physically stronger as compared to my boys but they have problems in their defence and last touches. We have some fine players like Hassan Bashir, Kaleemullah, Aadil and Saddam who could play a key role in our mission,” Shamlan said.
Pakistan team is currently preparing for the World Cup qualifiers in Lahore.
“We have 16 players in the camp, while Mehmood Khan and Ahsanullah will join us on Tuesday. A bunch of our foreign-based players will also join us in different times ahead of the first leg,” the coach said.
“Some of them will join us in Malaysia and some in Thailand. I will need them to train under me for a few days ahead of the qualifiers so that they could rightly gel with the rest of the lot which will be helpful in the matches against Yemen,” Shamlan said.
Those more likely to be part of Pakistan’s team for the qualifiers are former Fulham defender Zeeshan Rehman, Danish striker Hassan Bashir, German winger Sami Malik, Sheffield United’s midfielder Otis Khan, Bahrain-based defender Mohammad Ahmed, Kyrgyzstan-based striker Kaleemullah, midfielder Saddam Hussain and winger Mohammad Aadil.
Among the foreign-based players, only Hassan and Saddam were part of the Pakistan team that defeated Afghanistan 2-1 in a friendly on February 6 in Lahore.
Zesh had to skip that match due to a minor injury which he had developed while playing for his club Pahang FA in Malaysia.
In a bid to get some match practice, Pakistan team will spend one week each in Malaysia and Thailand from February 21 till March 5 or 6.
The Green-shirts will play a couple of matches each with the senior and Olympic sides of both countries.
Shamlan is also trying to get a couple of matches for his brigade in Bahrain. If the same matches are arranged, which are more likely to be held on March 6 and 7, there are chances that Pakistan would proceed to Doha which is near Bahrain.
Yemen had to opt for Doha as their home venue for the first leg because of the internal unrest in the country.
Shamlan’s support staff includes Hasan Baloch, former international defender Tanvir Ahmed, Mohammad Asghar and Zahid Taj.