Ahsanullah Khan 

Ehsan (left in KRL jersey) will have to keep Yemen at bay from the flank.
Ahsan (left in KRL jersey) will have to keep Yemen at bay from the flank.

Position: Full-Back

Club: KRL

Ahsanullah today is perhaps the only established Pakistan-based defender in our back four. And if you’d tell this to anybody five years ago at the Asian games 2010 in Guangzhou, you’d receive a friendly chuckle and nothing else.

The young defender was targeted in all 3 games that Pakistan lost in that event and especially during the game against Thailand, he had no answer as we shipped half a dozen without reply. Five years on and the Ahsanullah who lines up for Pakistan against Yemen is a different animal altogether. Solid defensive showings for Pakistan against Palestine and Afghanistan left those watching in awe and have certainly guaranteed him a place in Shamlan’s starting XI. But two good games out of a good, 5 year run in the squad means that he still has to prove his worth and that too when it matters the most.

The full-back doesn’t have a strong built but makes up for it with his strong tackling and his speed. Experience of playing in the national team for so long has also led to the KRL defender developing a fine reading of the game and his  positioning is that of a smart defensive player.

Having played for KRL at defensive midfield and the full back position this season, he surely has the attacking prowess a modern full back needs but that is something that has been lacking in his international performances. Poor ball control and distribution has plagued his performances. But considering Yemen is a strong side going forward his attacking game, or the lack of it, will be forgiven if he can help keep Yemen at bay.

With Muhammad Ahmad returning just before the Doha leg and the mouth watering combination of Nabil Aslam and Zeshan Rehman at centre back, Ahsanullah may be needed to play at right back instead of his usual left back slot for the Green Shirts.

Ahsan was playing right back that dreadful day against Thailand 5 years ago and that he’s played at the left full back position lately, it will probably be safe if he keeps his place and utility man Ahmad moves to the left.

Whatever the order of our back 4 may be, this young boy from Quetta has the hopes of a nation on his shoulders as he lines up against Yemen during the two legged World Cup qualification play-off. But a recent poor showing against Malaysia U-22 means we better be hoping and praying for one of his better outings this time around.

Nabil Aslam

 Nabil Aslam
Nabil Aslam in action for AC Horsens.

Position: Centre-Back

Club: Akademisk Boldklub

Previous Club (s): BK Frem, Hvidovre IF, AC Horsens

The most experienced European player to don the green jersey and the first Pakistan National team player to have played UEFA Europa League football is a straight forward introduction for a defender, for whom Pakistani fans have waited 4 long years to see in action.

Nabil has spent his entire career in Denmark playing professional football for 12 years after coming through the youth ranks of Brondby. The Dane began his senior career at once powerful BK Frem in the Danish 1st Division and won promotion to SuperLiga but was relegated after just 1 season in the top flight. He then joined fellow 1st Division side Hvidovre for a short while and later signed for AC Horsens, where he was to establish himself as a regular for the next 6 years.

Nabil enjoyed the ups and downs of promotion and relegations battles at Horsens as they settled into the SuperLiga. Nabil was part of the side that made it to the Danish Cup final losing out to FC Copenhagen and securing a UEFA Europa League qualifying place in the process.

AC Horsens made it to the play-off round of the Europa League after beating Elfsborg of Sweden in the 3rd qualifying round. They faced Sporting Lisbon, after first leg 1-1 draw in Denmark but the Portuguese side turned the screws on and won 5-0 and 6-1 on aggregate, shortening  AC Horsens first and only Europa League campaign.

The defender also endured frustrating time with injuries at Horsens but he showed strength of his character by comeback and furthering his career. Nabil left Horsens in the summer of 2014 as the club decided to restructure to adjust to life in 1st Division after relegation. Nabil then joined fellow 1st Division side Akademisk BK, where he was once again involved in a relegation battle in first half of the season.

For Pakistan fans, Nabil should have made debut long time ago but incomplete documents meant he was unable to feature under Tariq Lufti in 2011 and later under Zavisa due to club not releasing the player and injuries.  But his arrival is seen as better later than never as fans looks towards his pairing with Zesh Rehman, which perhaps will be the most prolific centre-back pairing in South Asia due to the level the 2 players have played at.

As Pakistan take on Yemen, they heavily will rely on the experience of Zesh Rehman and Nabil Aslam (though making his debut) to get them through the pre-qualifiers. For Nabil it may have come late in his career but at the age of 30 he could still serve Pakistan for another good few years.