by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee has started inspecting various venues in order to finalise the most appropriate stadium where the nation will host Cambodia on October 17 in its home leg of the first round of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
This correspondent has learnt that Lahore’s Punjab Stadium and Jinnah Stadium Islamabad are the top two options which are on the radar of the PFF NC which will need to submit the final venue with FIFA by August 18.
Sources said that effort is also being made to look whether Peoples Sports Complex Karachi and KPT Stadium Karachi could be utilised for the purpose. This correspondent understands that Peoples Sports Complex, located at Lyari, is not in a good position to host such a high-profile game. It can be utilised if the Sindh government takes an initiative to start its renovation with intensity from now.
Lahore’s Punjab Stadium houses the province’s sports secretariat and the government authorities will need to vacate a handful of rooms which will be used by the players and technical officials during the showpiece.
Jinnah Stadium Islamabad could be an option but it will be difficult for the crowd to go there and witness their team battling Cambodia in the most vital event. The first leg will be held in Cambodia on October 12.
When approached, an NC official said that there are only a few options regarding hosting the home leg against Cambodia. “We need to finalise the stadium for the home leg and submit it to FIFA before August 18. There are limited options in Pakistan. Our appeal to the government’s authorities is to support Pakistan football by allocating and preparing at least one stadium for the event,” the official said.
“The football fraternity deserves competitive matches to be played in Pakistan and they are anxiously waiting for live action. We have to choose another option if we don’t not get the stadium on time,” the official was quick to add.
Due to conflict among various factions, Pakistan hosted the return leg of their 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers first round against Cambodia in Doha in 2019. NC aims to see its national senior team create history and progress to the second round of the Qualifiers.
“It’s a vital opportunity for Pakistan football to regain its football momentum. The PFF is fully committed to extending unwavering support to the national team in its endeavors,” the official said.
The official said that NC is working on finalising the preparation for Pakistan’s senior team and Under-23 side which will feature in the 2024 Asian Cup Qualifiers which will be held in September.
“The PFF has already set the wheels in motion for both teams but the final details will be discussed in the next few days,” the official said. Asked whether NC will utilise the September FIFA window by giving a couple of international friendlies to its senior side, the official said the decision is yet to be taken. “The final decision has not been made yet as our calendar for the upcoming months is already filled. However, if participating in friendlies can provide an edge to the national senior team we will certainly consider it,” the official said.
The official said that the Under-23 team’s camp is set to commence in a few days, adding the camp for the senior team will be scheduled accordingly.
Asked whether the authorities have any plan to bring in a foreign coach, the official said foreign coaches have already been working with the team but experts will be invited as and when needed.
The official said that the best talent would be given an opportunity to play for Pakistan in the World Cup Qualifiers against Cambodia.
Asked how they will ensure the participation of various age-groups teams in international events in the next few months as it may cost NC a lot of money, the official said that they are hopeful that the required funds for these events will be provided by FIFA.
Besides FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and the Asian Cup Qualifiers, Pakistan will also field its men’s teams in the under-16 and under-19 SAFF Championships in September.