Constantine says Pakistan ‘better than before’ despite loss to Saudis [Dawn]

Constantine says Pakistan ‘better than before’ despite loss to Saudis [Dawn]

ISLAMABAD: When Pakistan played their opening match against Saudi Arabia on their maiden foray into the second round Asian World Cup qualifying, they suffered a 4-0 loss.

Over six months on, in the return match against the Saudis at Jinnah Stadium on Thursday, Pakistan were on the losing end again. This time the scoreline read 3-0 but head coach Stephen Constantine was happy with the progress the team has made.

“We were better than before … we were compact,” he told reporters. “We didn’t have much of the ball, we didn’t have many opportunities but that’s how it is. We were playing Saudi Arabia … they have lots of quality.”

Saudi Arabia’s victory thanks to two goals from Feras Al Buraikan (26th and 41st minutes) and one after the break by Musab Al Juwayr (59th) saw them advance to the final round of qualifying for the 2026 tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico and they were later joined by Jordan, who beat Tajikistan 3-0 in the other Group ‘G’ game.

The top two in each of the nine qualification groups advance to the next phase in the quest for one of Asia’s eight guaranteed berths at the 48-team World Cup.

Winless Pakistan, who play Tajikistan in their final group game on Tuesday, now go into the third round of qualifying for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup and Constantine is banking on the team’s consistent improvement to propel them to a maiden appearance at the continental championship.

“The boys give everything in the game and as a coach you cannot ask for more,” said Constantine, who created history last year by steering Pakistan past the first qualifying round. “Maybe the quality is not there but it’s part of the process to learn from mistakes. We have a lot of young players who will be the future of Pakistan football. I want to look forward. I think we are better than we were when I came.”

PALESTINE CREATE HISTORY

In other late action across the continent, Palestine created history when they booked a place in the third round for the first time following a goalless draw against Lebanon in Doha.

Against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, the Palestinian team has already claimed a piece of footballing history this year by making a debut appearance in the Asian Cup knockout phase.

On Thursday, Palestine, who came into the Group ‘I’ match with seven points, only needed a draw to progress, and they got the desired result despite some rough tactics by Lebanon as they picked up seven yellow cards.

It will also mark the fourth consecutive time Palestine have booked their place in the Asian Cup finals, to be hosted by Saudi Arabia in 2027.

Manager Makram Daboub’s men take on group winners Australia on June 11 next.

AFGHANISTAN HOLD QATAR

In matches played in the Middle East, the biggest surprise was Afghanistan holding reigning Asian champion Qatar to a goalless draw at Prince Abdullah Bin Jalawi Stadium in Al-Hasa, Saudi Arabia.

Qatar have already qualified for the third round, but could not make anything out of dominating the game and enjoying nearly 70 percent possession against a plucky Afghanistan, who now have five points in Group ‘A’ — level with India, who drew 0-0 with Kuwait to leave only one point separating the three teams behind the group-winning Qataris.

The two-time Asia champions best chance among many came in the 57th minute, but Tahsin Jamshid’s header, off a Mahdi Salem cross, was denied by the woodwork.

United Arab Emirates never looked back after an early brace in the 12th and 14th minutes by Harib Suhail and trounced Nepal 4-0 in Dammam.

Bahrain’s 0-0 draw with Yemen, meanwhile, confirmed their second-place finish in Group ‘H’ behind the UAE.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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