Rehman: Indo-Pak rivalry pushes everyone to give that extra bit

India and Pakistan football teams are set to face off in the SAFF Championship final on Wednesday.

Zesh Rehman playing for Fulham in 2004.   -  Getty Images

Be it football or any other sport, there are a handful of sports rivalries across the globe which can match the frenzy created by a face-off between India and Pakistan.

The wait isn’t long anymore as after a prolonged gap of 5 years, the two countries will be meeting at the SAFF Suzuki Cup in Wednesday's semifinal in Dhaka.

A couple of days prior to the high-profile clash, Pakistan’s central defender Zesh Rehman and Captain Saddam Hossain felt that “such a match is special,” and that the players “need to give that bit extra” to end up on the winning side.

"It's always special to play India. I believe it's same for the Indian players too when they play against Pakistan,” Zesh Rehman, the first player from the SAFF region to have played in the EPL, stated.

“The match has a lot of history. The emotions involved is huge. The rivalry pushes everyone to give that extra bit,” the former Fulham defender added.

"This particular match means a lot to both the countries and the players. The adrenaline rush around this match is profuse. We have to be very cautious and can't afford to let the emotions take over us,” he smiled.

Over the years, Rehman has plied his trade in club football for Fulham, QPR, Brighton and Hove Albion, Norwich City and many more during his illustrious career.

Talented midfielder Saddam Hossain, the present Captain of the Pakistan squad, also didn’t hide his excitement.

“We can’t just wait to play against India. We have every ounce of respect for our opponents but that won’t deter us from playing our natural game. We have shown our worth and I believe it’s going to be a heck of a contest and no one will prefer to give it a miss,” Hossain maintained.

The last time the two teams met in an official encounter in 2013 in Kathmandu, Saddam was just unstoppable down the right and hit the post twice. Otherwise, he was also part of an unofficial U-23 Friendly series in Bengaluru the following year, where he was adjudged the most valuable player of the series.

"Yes, I have a knack of scoring against India (laughs). Give me one Pakistani player's name who won't like that,” Hossain laughed.

“We dished out a brilliant brand of football in Bangalore. The series ended 1-1 and we gave the Indians a run for the money throughout. Those were two well-fought contests,” he recollected.

"We were running neck to neck but after that, we were bogged down with a 3-year-long suspension whereas India continued the good work and just went through the roof. They are in a completely different level now and we're struggling a lot,” Hossain lamented.

He further added that quite a few players are regular in the Danish League and presence of such exceptional talents helped them build a stronger team.

“Md. Ali, Yusuf Butt, Hassan Bashir play in Denmark whereas some other players are also playing in some other professional European leagues. Unfortunately, Adnan (Mohammad) who plays in the premier Danish League is not here,” he informed.

“Zesh-bhai’s (Rehman) career speaks volume about him as a player. Our Coach has put strong effort to build a team within a short duration. We have got some positive results and hope to get more in the coming days,” he maintained.

After the three-year-long suspension was lifted, Pakistan has played some impressive football in the Asian Games 2018 before reaching Dhaka to compete in the SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

Incidentally, this is going to be only the fifth occasion when Pakistan has reached the last four in the SAFF Championship. The last instance when it achieved the feat was in 2005, when Pakistan itself hosted the tournament.