by Abdul Mohi Shah
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan eye their first ever World Cup qualifying round win when they take on Cambodia in a return match (second leg) at the Jinnah Stadium Tuesday (today) afternoon.
Since Pakistan players put their feet on the field for the first ever World Cup qualifying outing (Italia 1990), they have never won a qualifier. On Tuesday chances of achieving their first ever win are there following the goalless first-leg draw in Cambodia.
Pakistan only managed to draw three of the 32 games they have played so far in an effort to make it to the World Cup, scoring 10 goals against 124 they conceded.
It rained almost all day Monday in Islamabad, a day ahead of the match, making it difficult for the opposing teams to use the Stadium field for one final training session. The Cambodian team had to be content with a training session at the indoor Liaquat Gymnasium while Naseer Bunda Hockey turf was used by the host country players for a shorter training stint. The forecast for Tuesday however is encouraging.
Pakistan coach Stephen Constantine who spoke to the media looked confident. “I hope and am confident for a better game against Cambodia following the first-leg draw. It is a big occasion with all hopes for a much better performance from local lads in the home leg where teams usually take the home advantage,” Constantine said at a press conference at the Jinnah Stadium Monday.
Pakistan last played against Afghanistan in an international match in Lahore in 2015 with the last qualifier held in 2011. “Following eight years of wait, a big match is going to take place in Pakistan. Our focus is on winning against Cambodia. Pakistan has not had an international game at home for a long time. The players are working very hard for the game and are hopeful to make the occasion a worth remembering one.”
Pakistan team head coach supported the launch of a professional league. “We need a professional league to improve the overall standard of the game in Pakistan. If there is no professional league, you cannot guarantee a football future in that country. India has improved their game due to the professional football league. Launching a professional league in Pakistan is a must to help flourish the game.”
FIFA has not yet decided on Otis Khan’s eligibility. “He will be part of the team if the decision comes before the match,” he said. Pakistan team goalkeeper Yusuf Butt was excited at the prospects of playing at home in front of the local crowd. “After 11 years of anxious wait, we will be playing in the World Cup qualifier at home ground. We are eagerly looking forward to the occasion,” he said.
Cambodian team head coach Felix Agustin Gonzalez Dalmas who also spoke to the media thanked Pakistani people for the hospitality. “They have been very kind so far. As a guest I am very happy. The first-leg in Cambodia was a tough one for both teams. Here, Pakistan are favourites to win. My boys are confident to fight till the end,” he said.
Cambodian goalkeeper Kim Huy who also accompanied Dalmas was confident of making it to the next stage. “I am hopeful we will not repeat the mistakes which we committed in the first leg. If that turned out to be the case we have good chances of winning here,” he said.