Former Fulham defender Zesh Rehman confirmed his participation for Pakistan in the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship that will begin from September 1 in Nepal.
Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Secretary Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi said the England-born Pakistan footballer Rehman will play the entire tournament with the national team after his current club in Hong Kong Kitchee FC released him for the championship.
“Rehman’s club has released him for the championship,” Lodhi told The Express Tribune. “The Kitchee FC were reluctant to let him go earlier as the dates of the tournament were clashing with his club’s matches in Hong Kong, but eventually they relented. We’ll confirm his ticket in a day or two so he can join the team for the practice matches. He will play the whole tournament for us; including the opening match against India on September 1.”
Meanwhile, coach Shahzad Anwar said Rehman’s participation will strengthen the team and his experience in international club football will also help other players.
“Rehman brings in a lot of experience that will have a positive effect on the rest of the team,” said Anwar. “He has the ability to keep everyone active in the field during the match. His presence will also send out a strong message to our opponents since teams like India are also using foreign-based players.”
The coach added that so far the weather in Nepal is suitable and the team’s first test will be their match against the Nepal U19 side today.
“The team is going through two sessions each day and the players are in shape,” he said. “They need a lot of morale-boosting since their defeat in Afghanistan last week, so I hope they regain their confidence against Nepal U19.”
England-based midfielder Adnan Ahmed has also joined the team while Hassan Bashir, Yousuf and Yacoob Butt will arrive in Nepal from Denmark on August 29, according to the team officials.
Pakistan is placed in Group A with Bangladesh, hosts Nepal and defending champions India. The team needs to win at least two out of three matches in the group to qualify for the semi-finals.
Pakistan’s best run in the Saff Championship was in 1997 when the national team finished third after India and Maldives.
While India have won the Saff title five times, Pakistan have never managed to get past the semi-finals.
In the last edition of the championship in 2011, Pakistan, under Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevic, crashed out of the event in the group stage.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2013.
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