By Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Pakistan head coach Mohammed Al Shamlan gushed at the talent at his disposal after his side secured a smash-and-grab 2-1 win over Afghanistan on Friday, the national team’s first win on home soil since December 2005.
Despite the absence of star players like Kaleemullah, Mohammad Adil and Zesh Rehman, a last-gasp goal by substitute Saadullah secured victory for Pakistan in the international friendly at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore.
“Despite the big names not coming, the fringe players showed what they are capable of,” Bahrain’s Shamlan told Dawn after the game which saw Pakistan avenge their 3-0 reverse to the Afghans in August 2013. “The victory shows that we have strength in depth.”
Hassan-inspired Pakistan secure last-gasp win over Afghans
Shamlan was happy with the team’s progress ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the AFC U-23 Championship preliminaries in March although the performance of the lesser known lights has given him a selection headache.
“The players showed that when Kaleem, Adil, Zesh or [Mohammad] Ahmed come to the team, they will have to fight for their place,” the coach said. “The team played brilliantly. It’s always satisfying for a coach to see the team playing to its potential.”
Denmark-based striker Hassan Bashir — handed the captain’s arm-band — was the architect of Pakistan’s win, delivering pinpoint crosses for both Saad and Mohammad Riaz, whose header opened the scoring for the hosts on 18 minutes.
Riaz’s superb header was cancelled out by Amiruddin Anwar four minutes before the hour mark and with the game seemingly heading for a draw, Hassan curled a superb free-kick in the 88th for Saad — who had come on for Mansoor Khan four minutes earlier — to head in the winner.
“Hassan was exceptional today and showed what a great player he is,” Shamlan said. “He showed great maturity in leading a team which had seven U-22 players.”
Midfielder Saddam Hussain, a team-mate of Kaleem and Adil at Kyrgyz giants FC Dordoi, was the other foreign-based player in the Pakistan side on Friday and he hailed the impact Shamlan has had on the team.
“The coach has a major role in our victory,” Saddam told Dawn after the game. “It was a relatively inexperienced Pakistan side on the pitch today but Shamlan gave us the confidence and laid out the perfect plan to counter Afghanistan.”
Although the Afghans bossed possession, Saddam put in a superb rearguard performance to help the defence cope with their attacks.
“The coach has made us tactically mature and we know when to attack and when to hold back although the team was set up in a very attacking manner,” Saddam added.
The midfield dynamo added that the win boosted the morale of the national team with important assignments coming next month.
Pakistan will learn their opponents in the first round of the World Cup qualifiers on Feb 10 with the two-legged playoff tie to be played on March 12 and 17. Potential opponents include arch-rivals India, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Cambodia, Chinese Taipei and Timor-Leste.
The U-23 side, meanwhile, have been drawn in Group ‘B’ of the qualifiers of the AFC U-23 Championship alongside Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
“The win against Afghanistan was really important ahead of the big games we have,” Saddam said. “It reinforces our belief that we can do well in the months ahead. Similarly, the junior lot showed their mettle and it was good exposure for them.”
The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), meanwhile, vowed to give the national team more exposure ahead of the World Cup qualifiers and the AFC U-23 qualifiers.
“We’re hoping for a tour of Thailand and Malaysia later this month,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn on Friday. “That exposure will hopefully help the team grow further.”
Lodhi said the win proved Pakistan are on the right track under Shamlan and hoped the Bahraini would extend his contact after it expires later this year.
“Shamlan has proved he can improve the team” he said. “With this win, we can say that the team is on the right track and hopefully will give better results in the future.
“The credit for the win goes to Shamlan totally because he’s managed to get it with a team lacking our top international players.”
Lodhi hoped the arrival of the star names for the upcoming events in March would add another dimension to the team.
“We managed to get a result with largely our junior team,” he said. “When Kaleem, Adil and Zesh join, they will hopefully take this team to a new level.”
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2015