A new chapter [TNS]

A new chapter [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

The other day Pakistan football team created history when it recorded the first-ever win in its three-decade-long FIFA World Cup Qualifiers journey. The Green-shirts did so by snatching a 1-0 win against Cambodia in their home leg at Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad, on October 17 where a sizable crowd witnessed the game. The first leg between the two nations had ended in a goalless draw in Cambodia on October 12.

It was indeed expected as Cambodia did not look as strong as it appeared way back in 2019 when Pakistan lost to them in their both legs held in Cambodia and Doha, a time when the authorities had been forced to hold a camp in Bahrain and a handful of their top local players were with the parallel PFF which had been formed through the court-ordered elections.

And we had to wait for four more years and it was Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad, which got the honour of hosting a game which will be remembered for a long time.

Yes, it was indeed a battle between two equal teams with Pakistan having the support of a few overseas players that made the difference. Overseas player Harun Hamid struck the solitary goal in the 67th minute which forced the fans to stand on their feet.

But the credit of this much-needed win must be given to the newly-hired English coach Stephen Constantine who marshalled his troops really well. In the first half, Cambodia, being coached by Felix of Argentine, looked dangerous, penetrated a few times but failed to strike. Pakistan were a little defensive in the first half. However in the second half the Green-shirts showed some aggression and eventually the ice was broken by Harun Hamid who later thanked the fans for supporting Pakistan.

The team was almost the same that was groomed by former Pakistan head coach Shehzad Anwar but the handler this time was an experienced and shrewd Stephen who has also coached India and transformed it into a fighting lot.

Initially it looked difficult as no one knew how Stephen would be able to get the best out of his charges when he would only handle them hardly for a week in training ahead of the first leg in Cambodia. But he really did an outstanding job. He had given roles to each and every player and the boys responded well.

And everybody is happy and it’s a great beginning for Pakistan football now which still lacks domestic football as the PFF Normalisation Committee has failed to conduct any league and it has no such intention.

In the second round, Pakistan will face some tough opposition in the shape of Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Jordan. The second round will begin by mid-November.

Ten nations have joined 26 teams in the second round which will feature nine groups of four nations, with the winners and runners-up then progressing through to the third round.

The 18 nations that reach the third round will be divided into three groups of six, via a draw conducted at a later date, with the top two nations in each group qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.

The fourth round consists of the half-dozen nations that finished third and fourth in the third round being slotted into two groups of three, with the winner of both groups also receiving a direct ticket to the FIFA World Cup.

Finally the fifth round features the two runners-up from the fourth round clashing in a two-legged, home-and-away tie to determine Asia’s representative in the FIFA play-off tournament.

Pakistan football has seen some tough times since 2015 with the nation also having faced FIFA sanctions twice.

A few days ago the Punjab Board of Revenue had sealed the PFF headquarters in Lahore in a lease dispute. However, on Saturday they returned the headquarters to the PFF NC. It was a great step as it is an important stage for NC which is going to conduct the PFF elections.

Besides managing Pakistan’s preparation for the second round of the World Cup Qualifiers NC must meet FIFA mandate and hold elections by March next year so that the PFF affairs could be handed over to the elected body which will help in the development of football in the country.


Published in The News on Sunday, 22 October 2023