KARACHI, Oct 10: Former Fulham defender Zesh Rehman hoped Pakistan could build on their performance from the SAFF Championship after he was named captain of the squad for the Philippines Peace Cup which starts in Bacolod City from Friday.
The three-nation event will see Pakistan face Chinese Taipei on Sunday before facing the hosts on Tuesday in a round-robin format. Philippines face Chinese Taipei in the tournament opener on Friday.
The tournament is in its second edition with the hosts defending the title they won last year.
With the Peace Cup matches coinciding with FIFA international friendly dates, Pakistan have had no problems in calling up their foreign-based players, including Zesh, for the event.
Zesh, who plays for Hong Kong side Kitchee, is one of four foreign-based players in the squad for the event. The other three are Denmark-based goalkeeper Yousuf Ijaz Butt and strikers Hassan Bashir and Mohammad Ali.
Mohammad Ali is the only player from Pakistan’s foreign-based quartet for the Peace Cup who did not feature in the SAFF Championship in Nepal in September where Pakistan crashed out of the group stage.
The foreign-based quartet were set to join the squad directly in the Philippines with the local-based contingent leaving for the event on Thursday.
Zesh impressed at the back during South Asia’s premier competition and now has been rewarded with the captain’s arm-band after Samar Ishaq, who led the team in Nepal, pulled out of the tournament due to illness.
“I’m looking forward to the experience with my team-mates and hopefully we can build on our performances from the SAFF Championship in this competition,” Zesh wrote on his blog.
Earlier, he had told Dawn how much it would mean to him to be the captain of the national side.
“It would be great if I get the opportunity to lead the side at an event,” he told Dawn ahead of the SAFF Championship. “It would be the fulfillment of a life-long dream for me.”
Now Zesh will hope he can carry on from where he left off in the SAFF Championship.
His sterling performances at the back couldn’t help Pakistan from losing to India 1-0 due to an own-goal and conceding a late equaliser to Nepal in a 1-1 draw before they won 2-1 against Bangladesh in their final group game.
With Pakistan’s long-serving goalkeeper Jaffar Khan still out of action, the Peace Cup presents Yousuf with a chance to prove himself and make the No.1 jersey his own although Saqib Hanif will give him tough competition for a spot in the starting line-up.
Hassan Bashir was impressive in the SAFF Championship with his performances drawing praise from opponents and he will be looking to add to his three international goals for the country.
As always, Pakistan’s squad will have a smattering of players from Khan Research Laboratories (KRL).
KRL have been riding high following their run to the AFC President’s Cup final last month — becoming the first side from the country to reach the showpiece of a continental event.
They ultimately lost the final 1-0 to Balkan FC but their star winger Mohammad Adil believes strong performances in Asian competitions by KRL would ultimately help the national side.
“If we keep playing at a high level, it would help us grow with our clubs,” Adil told Dawn. “That will help us perform better at international level. With international competitions coming thick and fast, we would only get better.”
Squad:Zesh Rehman (captain), Kaleemullah (vie-captain), Saqib Hanif, Muzammil Hussain, Mahmood Khan, Mohammad Ahmed, Ahsanullah, Mohammad Adil, Faisal Iqbal, Zainullah, Mohammad Bilal, Mohammad Rizwan Asif, Bilawal-ur-Rehman, Saddam Hussain, Syed Arif Hussain, Mohammad Sufyan Asif, Hameed Khan, Yousuf Ijaz Butt, Hassan Bashir, Mohammad Ali.
Officials: Mohammed Al-Shamlan (Head-coach), Shahzad Anwar (Assistant coach), Aslam Khan (Goalkeeping coach), Kamran Mehdi (Physio).—Sports Reporter