Constantine vows to give Saudis ‘a taste of Pakistan’ [Dawn]

Constantine vows to give Saudis ‘a taste of Pakistan’ [Dawn]

ISLAMABAD: Just over six months after Pakistan had ended on the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline against the mighty Saudi Arabia, head coach Stephen Constantine has vowed his side will go all out for a win when the two sides meet again here at the Jinnah Stadium on Thursday.

Pakistan suffered a late meltdown when the two sides faced off in November last year; in their first-ever match in the second round of Asian World Cup qualifying. Constantine has already spoken at length that Pakistan’s first foray into this stage of qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is about preparing the team for the future.

On Wednesday, he said he was hoping his team will rebound from losses in each of their four Group ‘G’ games. “We’re facing formidable opposition but we will look to give them a taste of Pakistan here,” Constantine told reporters.

He was also hoping that Pakistan are able to get their scoring boots on, with just one goal in their four matches so far. “We have to score if we want to win,” he said. “But, yes, we haven’t scored too many. We haven’t taken our opportunities.”

Pakistan defender Abdullah Iqbal added that Pakistan had been “working on improving their confidence”. “We want to give them a tough time.”

Pakistan end their commitments in Group ‘G’ with a game against Tajikistan on June 11 and Constantine, who masterminded Pakistan’s historic advancement from the first round, was looking at what lies ahead.

The bottom two teams go into the third round of qualifying for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup and Constantine has repeatedly stressed that Pakistan should aim to qualify for the continent’s top competition.

“I’d be more impressed if we win SAFF Championship or qualify for Asian Cup,” he said, when asked if he was satisfied with the work done so far. “What we achieved [against Cambodia in the first round] was historic but we’ve to look forward now and build the national team.”

Saudi Arabia sit top of the group with 10 points and will confirm their progress to the third round of World Cup qualifying with victory over Pakistan.

Roberto Mancini’s men are coming off a 1-1 draw against Tajikistan in their last match, and the Italian coach, who led the country of his birth to the European Championship in 2021, isn’t taking Pakistan lightly.

“The game starts at nil-nil,” Mancini told reporters on Wednesday. “You have to be concentrated from the first minute. If you don’t start well, if you don’t play well, it can get difficult. In football, all the games are difficult. We want to win … we want to play a good game.”

In the group’s other game, Asian Cup finalists Jordan need a win over Tajikistan in Amman to advance to the next round.

In other Asian qualifying matches for 2026 on Thursday, Indian legend Sunil Chhetri will say farewell to international football while Palestine are on the brink of reaching the final stage of Asian World Cup qualifying for the first time.

South Korea face Singapore needing just a point to ensure progress to the third round of qualifiers despite Kim Do-hoon becoming the third coach at the helm of the regional heavyweights since the turn of the year.

The 39-year-old skipper Chhetri has 94 goals in 150 appearances for India, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Iran’s retired Ali Daei and Lionel Messi in the list of all-time international goal-scorers.

India’s most-capped player announced last month that Thursday’s home qualifier against Kuwait in Kolkata will be his international swansong, and he will want to go out with a bang.

Igor Stimac’s side lie second in in Group ‘A’, behind already qualified Qatar, and can take a large step towards the third and final qualifying round for 2026 with victory.

With two games left and two nations to go through, the last qualifying berth from the group is wide open with India and Afghanistan level on four points and Kuwait on three.

Against the backdrop of 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.

Many of the regional heavyweights have already progressed, among them Australia, Japan, Iran, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

Son Heung-min’s South Korea have yet to join them, but they need just a point from their last two games — at Singapore on Thursday and home to China five days later — to be sure.

Kim was appointed last month as the team’s second interim coach in the aftermath of Juergen Klinsmann’s sacking after a failed Asian Cup campaign. Kim replaced Hwang Sun-hong, who led the team through March’s qualifying doubleheader.

Anything other than a defeat in Singapore by a side who have picked up one point in four matches, and were trounced 5-0 in Seoul in November, would see South Korea advance.

The South Koreans lead Group ‘C’ by three points from China, who face Thailand in Shenyang knowing a win would also take them into the third round.

Syria and North Korea meet in neutral Vientiane in the race to take second place in Group ‘B’ behind Japan.

Kyrgyzstan face Malaysia in Group ‘D’, with that pair plus Oman still in contention for a third-round spot, while Indonesia host Iraq hoping for a result that will see them join the Group ‘F’ winners in the next round.

A draw against Yemen in Riffa would see Bahrain advance from Group ‘H’.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2024

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