Pakistan look to stop losing run against Asian Cup finalists Jordan [Dawn]

Pakistan look to stop losing run against Asian Cup finalists Jordan [Dawn]

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan have always ended up on the losing side against Jordan and while coach Stephen Constantine said his team will play for a win, he warned against high expectations from his charges.

The second round of qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup has been a baptism of fire for Constantine’s men; bringing them back to earth after their historic victory against Cambodia in the first round.

Constantine has repeatedly stated that Pakistan’s first appearance in the second round of World Cup qualifying is merely a chance for his players to rub shoulders against Asia’s elite footballing nations. Ahead of Thursday’s Group ‘G’ clash against Jordan, he was reiterating the same.

“We will try our best to win against a very difficult team,” Constantine, whose team have lost 4-0 to Saudi Arabia and 6-1 to Tajikistan in their opening two matches, told reporters at the Jinnah Stadium on Wednesday, before reminding once again what he hopes to achieve in the second round.

“We are trying to build a new team, a new philosophy,” he said. “My focus is to get Pakistan to the AFC Asian Cup.”

While the top two finishers in the group advance to the third round of qualifying for the World Cup, the bottom two teams will go into the third round of qualifying for the 2027 Asian Cup.

“If we continue to play matches against the top teams in Asia and through constant training camps and good coaching, we can qualify for the Asian Cup,” said Constantine. ”It will not happen overnight and we will need continuous hard work to achieve that.”

The 61-year-old stated he was trying to replicate in Pakistan what he did in the past with India.

“In four years, I was able to help India qualify for the Asian Cup and we can do the same here,” he added. “For that, I need more games for the team and preparation camps.”

Constantine defended his approach, saying he wasn’t a “defeatist but a realist”. “We need to revamp our domestic structure and once again I’ll say we need to have the league running if we are to take the next step.”

Pakistan have looked to bank on the rich resource of their diaspora players to help them take the next step but the Englishman said it wasn’t the solution. “We started [the game] against Tajikistan with seven diaspora players but still got beat,” he stated.

The games against Jordan — Pakistan play against them away in five days’ time — were supposed to mark debuts for midfielders Adil Nabi and Etzaz Hussain, based in Cyprus and Norway respectively. But the duo sent out a statement earlier this week, saying they don’t want to play under the current management.

Constantine stated that he had a “list of 50 diaspora players who have expressed a desire to play for Pakistan but there is a big difference between wanting to play and being here”.

“I’ll take the diaspora players I have here because they have taken us this far,” he said.

Jordan are seeking maximum points against Pakistan to revive their hopes of qualifying for the tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada after getting just one point from their opening two games.

And they come into the double-header against Pakistan on a high after a stunning run at this year’s Asian Cup, where they reached the final.

Constantine praised the work done by his Jordan counterpart Hussein Ammouta but hoped “they wouldn’t continue their good performances against Pakistan”.

Moroccan Ammouta, meanwhile, said his side were looking to build upon their run at the Asian Cup.

“Every match has its circumstances; we hope that we can continue the Asian Cup success,” he told reporters ahead of his players’ first training session at the Jinnah Stadium.

“Our confidence has increased after our run at the Asian Cup and we will try to give the best we can. But it will not be an easy game as we need to win.”

Jordan reached Islamabad on Wednesday night and Ammouta said their delayed arrival was because “we were waiting for our foreign-based players to join us”.

He said Pakistan needed to consistently strive to achieve success at international level.

“Pakistan team is strategically different to the teams we played [against at the Asian Cup] in Qatar and Pakistan will need to constantly improve for the next several years to reach the top level.”

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2024