by Alam Zeb Safi
AL-AHSA, Saudi Arabia: Pakistan on Thursday night had an unimpressive start to their second round of 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers when they were whipped by a strong Saudi Arabia 4-0 thanks to striker Saleh Alshehri’s double here at the Al-Fateh Stadium.
Under a heavy downpour, both teams started well but it was Saudi Arabia who seemed a much better side with their frontline looking dangerous.
After a couple of fine movements, Saudi Arabia went ahead in the sixth minute when a pile-driver from Saleh Alshehri from the edge of the area went into the net with the gloveman Yousuf Butt failing to reach the ball despite a fine effort. In the 16th minute, Pakistan created a solid chance but striker Fareedullah’s header went over the cross bar. In the 17th minute, Pakistan had another opportunity but failed to capitalize.
In the 20th minute, Saudi Arabia managed a fine rally but a splendid cross from the right was excellently cleared by the Pakistani defender to avert a certain blow.
Pakistan onward did well in the back to restrict Saudi Arabia who failed to manage a gap in the crowded defence of the visitors. Just before the breather, Saudi Arabia inflicted a rally from left wing but Pakistani defenders once again did a fine job. At half time, Saudi Arabia were leading 1-0.
Pakistan’s coach Stephen Constantine was seen handling his side well by passing on timely instructions. Saudi Arabia started the second half aggressively and stretched their lead to 2-0 when striker Saleh Alshshri hit on penalty in the 48th minute, his second goal of the show.
The Pakistani defender made a huge blunder when he pulled the hosts’s striker in the area. In the 51st minute, Pakistan’s keeper Yousuf Butt saved the visitors from another blow when he saved on a direct drive before stopping on a rebound.
Moments later Saudi Arabia were close to further inflate the tally but Saleh Alshehri’s short-range drive went off the target. And now Saudi Arabia seemed more dangerous a side and the game was mostly played in Pakistan’s zone.
In the 76th minute, Saudi Arabia’s gloveman Mohammed Alowais, having played Qatar World Cup, denied Pakistan a goal.
In the stoppage time, substitute Abdulrahman Ghareeb stretched Saudi Arabia’s lead to 3-0 when he struck through the crowded defence.
Moments later, substitute striker Abdullah Hadi Radif hit a super goal when he beat a Pakistani defender and goalkeeper to seal a thumping win for the hosts. England-based striker Imran Kayani also made his debut in the show witnessed by a thick crowd.
Earlier, 15 minutes before the start of the game a heavy downpour and thunderstorm created panic in the crowd and media persons who were there to cover the game.
Some spectators were seen leaving the venue as the stands were not completely covered and the rainwater kept splashing into the stands. The journalists also rushed to the live broadcast section to take shelter from the heavy rain. However, the authorities handling that zone advised the reporters to leave the area. Everyone got wet. The rain continued with heavy pace in the first quarter of the showpiece.
Pakistan will now host Tajikistan in their second game on November 21 at the Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad.
Jordan is the other nation in Group G. These four nations will play against each other on home and away basis with the top two teams progressing to the third round and the bottom two teams to play in the 2027 Asian Cup Qualifiers.
England-based forward Otis Khan got the honour of leading Pakistan as skipper. Otis was handed captaincy band in the absence of Easah Suliman who got injured in the Azerbaijan league
a few days ago.
Easah, the defender, will also not play in Pakistan’s next match against Tajikistan at the Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad, on November 21.