- Tough second-round opponents: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan.
- Coach Constantine sees it as a learning experience.
- Matches start on November 16 against Saudi Arabia.
The six games the Green Shirts will play in the second round of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers against stronger opponents would be a “steep learning curve” for his charges, according to Pakistan’s football coach Stephen Constantine.
“I think these six games for us are going to be a steep learning curve,” Stephen told The News in an interview.
“We have not played for many many years and we are not playing regular football. When you add all of these things up and of-course it is going to be more difficult and if we had ten games together,” he added.
He declared that his subordinates would put in their best effort in a challenging round in Group G, which includes Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
“Yes we will go and will fight. Pakistan will now fight in any game when I am the coach and that’s the best we can hope for,” said Stephen, also a former India coach.
Pakistan’s match against Saudi Arabia in Dammam on November 16 will mark the start of their second round adventure. On November 21, Pakistan will welcome Tajikistan to Islamabad.
Pakistan will host Jordan on March 21, 2024; Jordan will host Pakistan on March 26; Pakistan will host Saudi Arabia on June 6; and Pakistan will travel to Tajikistan on June 11 to play their final round match.
The two groups’ top teams advance to the third round. Stephen has a great deal of faith in his ability to extract maximum potential from his charges.
“I am very confident that we get the best out of our players,” he said.
“Obviously Saudi Arabia will be a very, very difficult opponent and we must be fairly disciplined and make sure to make the minimum amount of mistakes because they will punish us whenever they can.”
He stated that the international players will travel to Saudi Arabia with them.
“The overseas players will mostly meet us in Saudi Arabia as the window is so tight,” the coach said. “It does not seem a point to bring them to Islamabad for one day and then another flight, more travel, more airports so we will try to get them in Jeddah as early as possibly can.”
Stephen also made a suggestion that the roster for the second round might include a few new players.
“Look, I thought most of the players did well in the short time that we had. I will call some other players who were in the previous camps. Maybe one or two new faces. There will be some changes. It’s up to the players to prove that they have something more to offer than some of the other players but we will see when the camp starts,” Stephen said.
Since the officials had arranged a short-term contract with Stephen for the first round match against Cambodia, there were initially some questions about his participation in the second round. Stephen was kept involved, nonetheless, by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalization Committee due to the team’s outstanding performance against Cambodia in the first round. Insiders claim that he will oversee the camp, which starts on November 1 at Islamabad’s Jinnah Stadium.
Pakistan drew goallessly with their hosts in the first-round away game in Cambodia on October 12 and defeated them 1-0 in the return leg in Islamabad on October 17. Pakistan has advanced to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers for the first time.
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