by Alam Zeb Safi
We become emotional and say why the Pakistan football team failed to deliver against Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan in their first two games of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers recently.
It’s natural to feel so but it’s a hard reality and law of nature that those who prepare well always emerge victorious.
Pakistan team’s head coach Stephen Constantine is justified in saying that we are not ready to play at such a high level.
Yes it’s a fact. We beat Cambodia 1-0 in Islamabad to qualify for the second round for the first time in history.
We could have done it four years back against the same Cambodia but due to a rift in the system we could not field the sort of team against them which could beat them. A few top players were not allowed by the parallel PFF to represent Pakistan.
Against Saudi Arabia we were lucky not to concede many goals in the game whose first quarter was played under heavy downpour which had reduced the visibility of the ball. The heavy rain and thunderstorm had started around 17 minutes before the start of the historic showpiece at Al-Ahsa where an enthusiastic crowd backed their side.
We lost that game 4-0. In the stoppage time we conceded two goals. Our players were seen feeling fatigue and fitness was wanted at that stage when temperature also dropped considerably due to heavy rain. And even warm-up for the players was difficult.
Yes, we did not play that entire game poorly as we created a couple of major chances. Had we converted them the eventual scoreline could have been different.
So we can say that our unit showed some resolve against Saudi Arabia in the latter’s backyard.
And Coach Stephen Constantine was also satisfied with the way his charges played against stronger Saudi Arabia who have the experience of playing in six World Cups.
Stephen had said that they would beat Tajikistan, but the Green-shirts went 6-1 down to the Central Asian nation in Islamabad on November 21, a display which broke the hearts of the thick crowd which was seen for the first time at the venue in a football game.
And this is the plus point for us and for our football which has a massive following despite the fact that we have no such standing in the sport.
Coach Constantine was furious over the scoreline and it was natural.
Now we will play four more games in the second round in March and June. And we should prepare vigorously for those.
We should arrange a few international matches for the team ahead of the March phase as we know that Jordan is a tough side. If Pakistan did not prepare well then it would be difficult for us to show some grace against these teams which have been playing consistent and quality football.
We have played very little since 2015 due to the internal conflict.
A team matures when it gets more and more matches. You cannot expect much from a team which does not play regularly and whose players lack proper domestic engagement. There is no league, a subject which was debated again and again when Pakistan lost to Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan in their opening games.
A professional league is the soul of football and if you lack it then it becomes difficult to build a team which could fight reasonably well against tough sides like those we have in the World Cup Qualifiers Group G.
So we should be realistic in our approach. We should keep calm. We have enough time at our disposal before our next game against Jordan in Islamabad on March 21 and we should make a comprehensive plan so that we could prepare well at least our home-grown players who direly need plenty of football which is the only way to develop.
Pakistan also needs to bring its former captain Saddam Hussain who is playing a league in Oman.
He is fully fit and deserves a recall. Constantine should use his cards tactfully and prepare a side which could play with grace against these tough teams.
Hope we raise our game in the next two phases.
As per the schedule Pakistan will face Jordan on March 21 at Islamabad and on March 26 Jordan will host Pakistan. On June 6 Pakistan will host Saudi Arabia at Islamabad while on June 11 Tajikistan will host Pakistan.
It seems that Pakistan will finish their Group G at the rock bottom but still it will be a very good experience of playing against such tough teams which will help the boys to learn.