by Alam Zeb Safi
LAHORE: As was expected, England-based winger Imran Kayani on Friday was drafted into the Pakistan squad for the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers second round matches against Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan to be held in the next few days.
Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee on Friday unveiled a list of 24 players, and besides Imran, the list also contains home-grown right-back Mohammad Hamza Muneer who was not part of the grooming process earlier.
‘The News’ reported in its Friday story that Mohammad Waheed and Moin Ahmed had been dropped on disciplinary issues. The list issued on Friday confirms that the duo are not part of the squad which will leave for Saudi Arabia on Saturday (today).
Pakistan will face Saudi Arabia in their Group G opener on November 16 at the
Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Stadium Al-Fateh Stadium in Al-Hasa and on November 21 Pakistan will host Tajikistan at the Jinnah Stadium Islamabad.
Jordan is the other team in the group. These four teams will face each other on home and away basis in three phases until June 2024 and the top two will progress to the third round.
Having played for Dover and Slough Town FC, Imran Kayani recently joined Whitehawk FC, a semi-professional English football club based in Whitehawk. He was also on the radar of former Pakistan coach Shehzad Anwar as he wanted to bring him for the 2024 Under-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers the other month and had also got visa for him but the PFF NC did not send him the ticket which deprived him of the opportunity to make his Pakistan debut.
Besides Imran Kayani there are six other overseas players in the line-up which will face strong Saudi Arabia, a side which has played six World Cups and won three Asian Cup, three Gulf Cup, and three Arab Cup crowns. Skipper Easah Suliman will be missing this phase due to injury which he sustained in Azerbaijan League a few days ago.
“The boys have worked hard. Look, all the games for us are important. It was most important for Pakistan to qualify and now we want to take advantage of these six games in the second round. I mean to make sure that everybody in Pakistan knows that there is a football team and make sure the world knows that there is a Pakistan football team,” Stephen said.
“We have a population of 240 million plus hundreds of Pakistani boys are outside. Everybody wants to play now because we play World Cup Qualifiers and I think it’s good. We also have to think about the Asian Cup Qualifiers. There will be other six games next year and for me I think it’s a building process. We have not played football for a long time. We have also difficult games to play in our group. We could lose all of these games. We would try to develop a football culture and the important thing is that we learn from every game and this is very important,” Stephen said.
“If you talk about expectations so Saudi Arabia are going for the World Cup but we cannot. We will try to build a team in these six games and will try to qualify for the Asian Cup,” Stephen said.
“We think about Saudi’s team as a whole and not about one player. Look, they are very strong team. We have hundred percent respect for Saudi Arabia. The probabilities are not in our favour. Consider where we were a few weeks ago and where we are now and where we will be in three or six months. We cannot build the team in three or five games. We need time. We have players here and their willingness to work is super, have been very impressed by the attitude of the players and that will continue,” he said.
Squad: Goalkeepers: Yousuf Butt, Salman-Ul-Haq, Hassan Ali; Defenders: Abdullah Iqbal, Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Mohibullah, Muhammad Sohail, Muhammad Saddam, Junaid Shah, Rao Umar Hayat, Muhammad Hamza Munir; Midfielders: Rahis Nabi, Alamgir Ghazi, Rajab Ali, Ali Uzair, Imran Kiyani, Harun Hamid; Forwards: Shayak Dost, Otis Khan, Fareed Ullah, Abdul Samad Arshad, Muhammad Waleed Khan, Adeel Younas; Officials: Stephen Constantine (head coach), Rogerio Ramos (goalkeeper coach), Claudio Altieri (performance coach), Muhammad Ali Khan (manager), Azam Khan (doctor), Muhammad Abdullah (physio), Haider Ali (media), Abdul Qayyum (masseur).