Jordan see off Pakistan with early two-goal burst [Dawn]

Jordan see off Pakistan with early two-goal burst [Dawn]

by Kashif Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: It became a case of damage control for Pakistan just nine minutes in at the Jinnah Stadium. But having fallen two goals behind to Asian Cup finalists Jordan early on in their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Thursday, Pakistan showed determination and character to lose by just 3-0; a performance that drew praise from coach Stephen Constantine.

“We’re improving, yes,” Constantine told reporters overseeing Pakistan’s third straight Group ‘G’ loss in the second round of World Cup qualifying. “The boys gave absolutely everything today.”

Having gone past the first round of qualifying for the first time in their history with victory over Cambodia last year, Pakistan opened with defeats to Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan respectively and sit at the bottom of the standings at the halfway point of their campaign.

Finishing in the top two to advance to the third round of qualifying for the tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico was never a realistic aim for Pakistan and Constantine has stressed time and again that the six matches against the Asian elite were a chance for the side to prepare for the challenges ahead; namely the third round of qualifying for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

“It’s not easy to build a national team in three or four months especially if you don’t have a league [functioning in the country],” a visibly-satisfied Constantine said after the game, which was played during fasting hours. “I’m not going to give Ramadan as an excuse because Jordan were also observing it as well as most of us but I think you can see the difference in experience, the difference in game experience.

“You see [left-back] Mohammad Saddam. He was terrible in the first 25 minutes and we were thinking of taking him off but in the last 15 minutes he starts to show understanding and I think in the end, his first international debut wasn’t bad. [Forward] Adeel Younis, in his first game wasn’t bad.

“[Striker] Fareedullah had a great game. [Goalkeeper] Yousuf Butt did very well and saved a penalty. They all had a great game because if we didn’t have a great game, we would’ve lost 6-0 or 7-0. It wasn’t a good start for us but we showed character and determination after that.”

Jordan came into the game with just a point from their opening two group games but were fired up after their stunning run at last month’s Asian Cup, where they reached the final for the first time in their history.

Hussein Ammouta’s men were quickly out of the blocks and took the lead in just the second minute when Mahmoud Al Mardi pushed a free-kick to Mousa Al Tamari on the turn and the striker, who plays for Ligue 1 side Montpellier, smashed past Yousuf.

Things got worse for Pakistan when Yazan Al Naimat surged in from the left and was brought down inside the box by right-back Rao Umar Hayat. Ali Olwan made no mistake from the resulting penalty, sending it past Yousuf, who didn’t even dive.

But Pakistan became more resolute after that; Yousuf inspiring his side with a stunning reflex save to keep out a header by Al Naimat.

“Bit by bit we’re improving,” Denmark-based Yousuf told reporters afterwards. “Imagine if we have league in the country and players get regular matches, there won’t be the early nerves. The players would come switched on. We had good buildups in the second half and we created a few chances.”

Fareed had a golden chance on the hour mark to reduce the deficit for Pakistan but the striker, having got on the end of a long-ball, slipped as he entered the box.

With Pakistan defending in numbers, Jordan were getting frustrated in their bid to embellish the scoreline but it was Fareed who went close at the other end, firing straight at goalkeeper Yazeed Abdullah from close range with 15 minutes to play.

But it was matter of time before Jordan would make most of their chan­ces and in the 81st minute, Al Tamari was chopped down in the box by centre-back Abdullah Iqbal. Yousuf dived this time, however, and blocked Al Tamari’s effort from the spot.

Al Tamari, though, redeemed himself four minutes later when he got into the box and fired a shot which took a deflection off Pakistan captain Easah Suliman and went in for Jordan’s third goal.

“When you miss the penalty, you want to make amends and I’m glad I scored,” Al Tamari said after the match.

Jordan’s Moroccan coach Ammouta said he was pleased with the three points but admitted his side could have scored more goals. He vowed his side will intensify their efforts to score more goals when they face Pakistan at home in five days’ time.

“We knew before the game it would be a tough one,” Amouta told reporters. “But we got the three points. We made mistakes here and there and we will be working on them before we meet Pakistan again.”

With Group ‘G’ table-toppers Saudi Arabia and second-placed Tajikistan, who were due to meet later on Thursday, having beaten Pakistan 4-0 and 6-1 respectively, Ammouta knows that his side need to make the most of their chances against Pakistan.

“We tried to exert as much attacking pressure as we could today and we’ll try to do the same in the return fixture,” Ammouta said. “We need to look for maximum goals in the next match because it might come down to that in deciding the top two places in the group.”

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2024