Doors opening for Pakistan’s new soccer star

by Mark Smith, South Wales Echo

PLAYING for your country at a major tournament is merely a dream for so many budding footballers.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with your teammates, singing the national anthem and competing against some of the best players in world football is an occasion very few of us will ever experience.

But for 25-year-old doorman Atif Bashir that dream has become a reality – playing a pivotal role for Pakistan at the Asian Games and picking up a man-of-the-match award in the process.

Atif, who is contracted to Barry Town Football Club, said he felt privileged to take part in the games held in China and believes the Pakistan national team is on the up despite them failing to get past the group stages.

The former Cardiff High School pupil played in all three group games, losing 6-0 to a strong Thailand side, drawing 0-0 with the Maldives and narrowly losing 2-0 to one of the pre-tournament favourites, Oman.

After training for three weeks in the run-up to the tournament, Bashir said the young and inexperienced squad had high hopes of progressing after the appointment of ex-England, Tottenham and Chelsea player Graham Roberts as Pakistan coach.

He said: “Our performances didn’t reflect the scores. We are a team who haven’t played together properly before, but the whole tournament was amazing.

“The facilities were unbelievable. We trained where Olympic athletes had trained in the past, so I felt very honoured.”

Playing as a defensive midfielder player and then switching to centre-back, Bashir’s outstanding performances were recognised by the organisers of the tournament. Against Oman, he was presented with the man-of-the-match award.

He now hopes the people of Pakistan can get embrace football as much as they do cricket to help them rise up the Fifa rankings.

“There’s not much money in national football in Pakistan. Most of the players have jobs and they can’t just concentrate on the football,” he said.

“But I have such pride in playing. It doesn’t matter what the standard is like.”

Bashir was invited to train with the national side at their Pakistan training camp two years ago. The manager then offered him a chance to play after impressing them greatly.

“The scouts weren’t initially going to come to Wales, but one went to Bangor when they were playing a friendly against an English club.

“I thought I’d e-mail the Pakistan Football Federation and they offered me the chance to train – I’ve never looked back.”

Bashir, who works at Salt Bar in Cardiff Bay and is studying to become a quantity surveyor at Glamorgan University, is now looking forward to playing in Pakistan’s World Cup qualifiers next year.