Pakistan hold Cambodia in away leg of WC qualifier [The News]

Pakistan hold Cambodia in away leg of WC qualifier [The News]

LAHORE: The newly-hired English coach Stephen Constantine on Thursday made a good start as Pakistan held Cambodia to a goalless draw in their away leg of the first round of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers at the National Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Now the outcome of the second leg which will be hosted by Pakistan at the Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad on October 17 will decide the fate of the round.

Pakistan have never qualified for the second round and now the Green-shirts have a huge chance to write history in front of the home crowd at the federal capital. The hosts looked to get on the front foot from the beginning and had their first chance inside three minutes when Yudai Ogawa managed a free-kick that went into the box from the left flank. Choun Chanchav met it with a header but could not direct it towards the goal.

Pakistan responded five minutes later when Moin Ahmed fired a low effort that was saved by the Cambodian goalkeeper Hul Kimhuy. The second dangerous attempt for the visitors came just after the quarter-hour mark when Rahis Nabi dribbled past two players near the edge of the Cambodian box and set up the overlapping Shayak Dost on the left flank but the latter’s attempt to take it first time saw him just miss the target.

With just eight minutes to go into the first half, Cambodia threatened once more through Chantha Chanteaka who advanced down the left, beat his marker and looked to find the near corner, but his effort passed just the wrong side of the upright.

Japanese-born Ogawa continued to be the main creative outlet for the Kouprey with his delivery into the box midway through the second half looking destined for the feet of the onrushing substitute Reung Bunheing, but a heroic save from Pakistani goalkeeper Yousuf Ejaz Butt rescued the situation for the visitors.

The biggest chance of the second half fell Cambodia’s way in the 80th minute when Bunheing fed Ogawa who fired a thunderous strike from the edge of the area that Butt needed two attempts to collect with his initial attempt to make the save seeing him spill the ball.

The home side nearly got a late winner when substitute Ty Sa dribbled in from the left and curled an effort towards the far corner that was deflected behind by Pakistan captain Easah Suliman deep in added time.

Former Pakistan coach Zavisa Milosavljevic said that Pakistan have a great chance now to qualify for the second round. “In Islamabad it will be necessary for the team to play aggressively in order to score a goal,” Zavisa told The News from Serbia. “But it can be very dangerous as Cambodia will have a lot of space to counter-attack,” he was quick to add.

“Pakistan will need to be extremely tactical and organised. The match will be difficult but interesting for the fans who should give a lot of support to Pakistan. I think the result will be uncertain until the last minute,” Zavisa said.

Former Pakistan assistant coach Nasir Ismail said Stephen implemented his strategy properly. “If I say it was Stephen’s success it will not be wrong as he implemented his strategy properly and the boys responded well. The entire unit showed discipline on the pitch. Waheed narrowly missed a huge chance,” Nasir said.

Published in The News, 13 October 2023