The old guard makes way for the new generation

The old guard makes way for the new generation

By  openDemocracy 

After a period of transition for the Pakistan national football team, 2015 saw the emergence of a number of talented young players who look set to pave the way for a bright future.

Following a difficult 2014, in which the side lost all three of its friendly games, against Lebanon, Indonesia, and Palestine, 2015 began brightly with a 2-1 win over Afghanistan at Punjab Stadium.

Thereafter followed a 3-1 defeat to Yemen in the first of Pakistan’s qualifying games for the 2018 World Cup, which saw a marked improvement from the side’s previous outings against Yemen on the road to USA ’94, when they lost heavily.

There was further improvement in the return leg at Manama in Bahrain, where Pakistan held Yemen to a respectable 0-0 draw.

Sadly, the result put paid to Pakistan’s hopes of qualifying for the 2018 tournament, but they are a vastly improved team, with coach Mohammed Shamlan having no less than eight of his players plying their trade in domestic leagues around the world.

In the past, Pakistan were an unfancied side at the bookmakers, punters will think twice about betting against them in their 2015 fixtures. Pakistan could become one of those underrated-but-improving sides who make life difficult for bookmakers, and their unpredictable fixtures could be worth adding to the bet calculator when making football accumulator bets.

If Pakistan are to build on their progress in 2016, much will depend on the development of the players who have risen to prominence in recent years, and also the new stars who are filling a nation with hope.

Hassan Bashir

With four goals in his 15 national team appearances, Hassan Naweed Bashir has already made himself a hero in the eyes of many Pakistani football fans, and he was captain of the team that beat Afghanistan in 2015.

Bashir cut his teeth in Danish football, coming up through the youth ranks at Boldklubben af 1893, before moving on to play for two seasons at Koge. He has since been something of a journeyman of Danish football, but his scoring record at every club he has played for has been impressive, particularly at Hellerup IK, where he netted 12 goals in 25 games.

Now, at the age of 28, Bashir has joined Dordoi Bishkek in Kyrgyztan, and many commentators believe he is playing the best football of his career. Should he continue the form that has seen him score at a rate of more than a goal every four games, he will be key to Pakistan’s continued progress.

Saadullah Khan

Bashir’s 88th minute free-kick was converted by the head of Saadullah Khan to give Pakistan a joyous victory over Afghanistan, and the goal marked the arrival of the 21-year-old as a one of the national team’s brightest hopes.

Khan plays his club football for B.G. Sports in the Dhivehi League of the Maldives, and his versatility across the forward line makes him an asset to both club and country.

His debut for Pakistan in a 3-1 defeat against Lebanon in 2014 – at the age of just 19 – may not have been the most auspicious, but his outstanding technique, pace, and ability to beat players and run with the ball, make him one of the most exciting Pakistani footballers to emerge in decades.