By Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
The Pak Shaheens face a tough task against the Cedars in Beirut, especially after coach Mohammad Al-Shamlan’s decision to field juniors against a hardened Lebanese side featuring a diaspora of foreign-based players.
Lebanon and Pakistan have only met twice in history before, during the 2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, where the much fancied Lebanese team thrashed the Shaheens 6-0 and 8-1 respectively. Pakistan’s line-up has changed immensely since the prime days of Essa and Jaffar Khan, but Lebanon remain the dominant side and are clear favorites to win.
The Cedars last had competitive action in December during the Asian Cup qualifiers where they lost 2-0 to Kuwait, held Jordan to a 0-0 draw and were thrashed 4-1 by Iran. Nonetheless, Lebanon will want to start 2014 on a high and secure an easy win as they prepare for a tough footballing year ahead.
The Shaheens are once again in action after featuring in the Philippines Peace Cup in October 2013, where a loss against the hosts cost them a trophy win. But while results haven’t gone their way, the team had improved with the induction of foreign-based players as proved by wins over Chinese Taipei and Bangladesh in recent times.
Like Pakistan, Lebanon have relied on the skills and abilities of their foreign-based contingent to propel them forward. Clearly the results have paid off, as the Cedars reached the final stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers beating the likes of Iran and South Korea along the way. And for this tie, Italian coach Giuseppe Giannini has called up goalkeeper Abbas Hassan (Elfsborg), Soony Saad (Sporting Kansas City), and Mohammad Ali Khan (Hacken), who could well flip the game in Lebanon’s favour.
Despite it being a FIFA Senior Friendly, Bahraini boss Shamlan has opted for U-22 youngsters that he is prepping for the AFC Qualifiers in June. The lot does not contain any foreign-based players for Pakistan and subsequently ace winger Mohammad Adil (Dordoi Bishkek) has not been called either. Nonetheless, the Shaheens can rely upon Kaleemullah’s (KRL) prowess up-front while Mansoor Khan (PAF) is to make his senior debut.
Without Adil on the right, Shamlan is likely to opt for a quartet of Bilawal-ur-Rehman, Mehmood Khan, Saddam Hussain (all KRL) and Mohammad Riaz (KESC). While the attack could potentially click against a tough Lebanese outfit, the defence is perilously weak with Faisal Iqbal (NBP), Mohammad Ahmed (WAPDA), Naveed Ahmed (Navy) and Ahsanullah (KRL) occupying the slots ahead of goalkeeper Saqib Hanif (KRL).
Nonetheless, coach Shamlan is looking forward to the game and claims that it will be a great excersize for the Shaheens as they play a much tougher opponent in unfamiliar surroundings.
“In my opinion, our mission is tough because the Lebanese team is betten on a technical level, but we are going to play in order to achieve our goal and gain experience for players, and I hope that we do well,” Shamlan said while talking to the Lebanese media.
“We are working within the plan in order to prepare the team for future benefits, because the average age of the players does not exceed 24-years, and there are some stars like Kaleemullah and Mansoor Khan,” the former Bahrain assistant trainer was quoted as saying.
Lebanon: Soony Saad
The MLS striker has already scored at International level and will definitely look towards easy pickings against a feeble Pakistani defence to increase his goal tally.
Kaleem has never gotten a lot of chances to play in his preferred position at International level, but that could change against Lebanon, where he is likely to lead the line and become Pakistan’s main source of attacking intent.
Pakistan’s Predicted Line-up:
Lebanon 4-0 Pakistan