by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Pakistan is hosting the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the first time in 12 years, which is indeed an honour. However, it is unfortunate that the country of more than 200 million population does not have even a single international standard stadium where it can host a world-class match.
The match between Cambodia and Pakistan will take place at 2:00 p.m. today at the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers first round.
The tie against Cambodia has forced the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee (NC) to push for the opportunity to host the match and it has been a ride for everyone involved.
For starters, the previous venue when Pakistan hosted their last FIFA World Cup qualifier in 2011, Punjab Stadium in Lahore, was deemed unfit by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) officials.
The bottom line is that PFF NC has organised the tie hastily with the venue barely approved by the Asian Football Confederation.
It was just in the last week of September that the AFC inspectors agreed on Jinnah Stadium conditionally.
The PFF NC had to join hands with the Pakistan Sports Board which comes under the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination to make sure that the venue was acceptable by the AFC so the second leg could take place in Islamabad.
It is at this point that one feels the colossal loss of opportunity for the previous PFF office-bearers have missed out on as they never built the stadiums on the FIFA goal projects but squandered the money instead that was allotted for them.
There is not a single stadium that the PFF owns.
“It is true that had we successfully completed the FIFA goal-projects it would have been a different story,’ the PFF NC member Shahid Khokhar told The Express Tribune. “Ideally, we should have the Punjab Stadium, but it is true that the federation does not own any stadium.
“It is a sad reality because stadiums not only serve the players but the fans too and we really are falling behind in that respect.”
Khokhar has been responsible for making sure that the Jinnah Stadium is ready for the crucial tie, where if Pakistan wins against Cambodia, they will qualify for the second round for the first time in history.
This time if they succeed, they will join Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Jordan in the next round.
“I have to thank Director General PSB, deputy and joint secretary of the ministry of IPC, the Interior Ministry, and everyone involved on the governmental level for their all-out support in hosting this match,’ said Khokar.
He explained the challenges in preparing the Jinnah Stadium field were enormous.
‘The AFC inspector suggested that we go we Jinnah Stadium compared to Punjab Stadium in Lahore. But the task was to make sure that we met the standard. There was a list of things that we needed to acquire or else this tie would have been taken away from us and we would have to pay the penalty for it.
“First thing was to have a lush green field, the conditions of the pitch, if they were up to mark, the dimensions as well. Then there were these metal goalposts installed at the Jinnah Stadium, that had to change because the standard cross bars goalposts approved by FIFA are that of a different fibre.
“We have been able to fulfill most requirements except that of floodlights, we couldn’t do it in such a short amount of time, that is a bigger task that needs to be done by the PSB, so, of course, we are going to have the match in the afternoon,’ said Khokhar.
But he agreed that the PFF needs at least one world-class stadium. So far there is Punjab Stadium and Peoples Stadium in Karachi with big pitches, but they require more attention.
“We will need to work with the local governments to make these stadiums, People’s Stadium is such a great place with the surrounding area complementing football culture, similarly Punjab Stadium belongs to the government of Punjab,” concluded Khokhar but he concluded that once the elections of the PFF are held, the new body must work to build world-class stadium, however, the renovation of the Jinnah Stadium for this match is a new beginning as well.