KARACHI: Mohammed Al Shamlan was hoping Zesh Rehman’s arrival would do Pakistan a world of good for the first leg of their first-round 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Yemen on Thursday.
Now, though, Pakistan’s Bahraini head coach will have to do without the former Fulham defender after his Malaysian club Pahang FA refused to release him for the game at Doha’s Grand Hammad Stadium.
Zesh’s experience would have come in handy and Shamlan identified the experienced central defender to line-up with Denmark-based Nabil Aslam to provide stability at the back after Pakistan’s leaky defence let in seven goals in four preparatory games for the Yemen tie.
In a two-week long tour of Malaysia and Thailand, Pakistan beat the Malaysian U-19 team 3-1 before losing 2-1 to the Malaysian U-22 team, 2-0 to Thai Premier League club Osotspa and 2-0 to the Thai U-23 side.
“They [Nabil and Zesh] bring with them a lot of experience and more solidity at the back and that might help us solve our defensive problems,” Shamlan told Dawn before the team left on Monday for the Qatari capital where Zesh was expected to join them.
But Pahang’s refusal to release the player, who was included in their starting XI for their AFC Cup match against Global FC on Wednesday, gives Shamlan a potentially disturbing defensive dilemma as they seek revenge for their 5-1 and 3-0 defeats to Yemen in the qualifiers for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Pakistan team manager Asghar Khan Anjum, however, wasn’t too concerned.
“His absence will not affect the morale of the team,” he told Dawn from Doha on Wednesday.
“He hadn’t been training with us and wasn’t on the preparatory tour as well so it doesn't matter really.
“He’s communicated to the coach and so Shamlan will decide what to do. We’re confident with the options we have.”
Zesh’s absence, meanwhile, was a cause of great furore in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
“He should’ve been released,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn from Lahore on Wednesday.
“We’ll be writing to FIFA regarding this matter. The club [Pahang] should be sanctioned.”
In the FIFA regulations on the status and transfer of players, it is stated that “release of players is mandatory for all international windows listed in the international match calendar”.
However, the calendar for 2015 has dates from March 23-31 marked as international dates.
Zesh, meanwhile, he was looking forward to the AFC Cup match more than the World Cup qualifier.
“Looking forward to our 1st home AFC Cup game of 2015 Tomorrrow night at the Darul Makmur stadium,” Zesh wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Shamlan now will have to put his trust in Bahrain-based defender Mohammad Ahmed to provide defensive stability with the PFF stressing that now they “don’t need Zesh even for the second leg” in Lahore on March 17.