Samar to lead Pakistan in Afghanistan friendly [DAWN]

Umaid Wasim – DAWN

KARACHI: Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) defender Samar Ishaq will lead Pakistan in their international friendly against Afghanistan in Kabul on Tuesday.

The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) on Sunday unveiled the squad for their lone warm-up match ahead of the upcoming SAFF Championships in Nepal which will leave for Kabul on Monday.

The SAFF Championships kick off in Kathmandu on Aug 31 with Pakistan facing arch-rivals India in their opening Group ‘A’ match on Sept 1.

“The players’ morale is high and they are looking forward to doing their best,” Pakistan assistant coach Shahzad Anwer told Dawn on Sunday from Lahore where the team held their last practice session.

“Playing Afghanistan will be good for us as they are ranked above us in the FIFA rankings.”

Afghanistan were runners-up to India in the last edition of the SAFF Championships and are currently placed 139 in the rankings against Pakistan’s 167.

Shahzad lamented the fact that Pakistan will be playing just one game ahead of the regional event.

“It would’ve been great if we could’ve have played a few more games so that the players could assess their shortcomings but nonetheless we’re hopeful of performing well,” he said, adding that it was unfortunate that the two-match series against Bangladesh was cancelled.

With long-serving goalkeeper and captain Jaffar Khan being ruled out of the tournament with injury, Pakistan would have KRL shot-stopper Saqib Hanif and Denmark-based custodian Yousaf Butt fighting for the No 1 jersey.

Shahzad, though, was coy on who of the two would be Pakistan’s first choice in goal.

“Yousuf has performed well for the country over the last year for the country,” he said. “But the match against Afghanistan will offer Saqib a good chance to prove himself worthy of a starting berth.”

Yousuf, who is part of Pakistan’s Denmark-based quartet which includes his brother Yaqoob Butt, Hassan Bashir and Mohmmad Ali, will not be a part of the touring party to Kabul.

The four players will join the squad before Pakistan leave for Nepal on Aug 23.

Moreover, Pakistan’s star defender Zesh Rehman will not take part for Pakistan in the SAFF Championships despite having shown his interest in representing the team in Nepal.

“Zesh will not be in the squad for the SAFF Championship,” a well-placed source told Dawn on Sunday.

“Although he is a great player and has loads of international experience, [Pakistan coach] Zavisa Milosavljevic wants players who are willing to join the squad before their departure to Nepal.”

Zesh, who formerly played for English Premier League side Fulham and now plays for Kitchee in Hong Kong, had expressed his desire to take part in the SAFF Championships earlier last week.

“I am in touch with the officials of the PFF and hopefully will get to play in the SAFF Cup this time,” he told Indian sports website Sportskeeda.

“It is undoubtedly the biggest football tournament in the SAFF region so it would be an honour to play in it again.”

Squad for Afghanistan friendly: Saqib Hanif, Muzammil Hussain, Mohammad Hameed, Samar Ishaq, Kamran Khan, Mohammad Ahmed, Ahsanullah, Saddam Hussain, Mohammad Adil, Faisal Iqbal, Yasir Afridi, Zia Us Salam, Naveed Ahmed, Mohammad Riaz, Kaleemullah, Mohammad Mujahid, Saeed Ahmed.