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Pakistan’s FIFA World Cup qualifying agony continues with Cambodia loss

Updated June 13, 2019

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DOHA: Pakistan’s Zesh Rehman (L) vies for the ball with Orn Chanpolin of Cambodia during the second leg of their first-round joint-qualifier for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
—courtesy Xinhua
DOHA: Pakistan’s Zesh Rehman (L) vies for the ball with Orn Chanpolin of Cambodia during the second leg of their first-round joint-qualifier for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. —courtesy Xinhua

DOHA: Pakistan’s wait for FIFA World Cup qualifier victory goes on.

A 2-1 loss to Cambodia on Tuesday means they will now have to wait another four years to end their unenviable record of not having won any of their 32 qualifying matches for world football’s showpiece tournament in a run stretching back to 1989.

The 4-1 defeat on aggregate meant Pakistan went out at the first round of the joint-qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup in China. For the next four years, they will have to make do without competitive matches until the next qualifying cycle begins.

Pakistan, whose football scene has been burdened by politics, corruption and incompetence for years, just made it to the qualifiers.

The Pakistan team that took part in the World Cup qualifiers was largely made up of foreign-based players and was sent by a Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) faction headed by Faisal Saleh Hayat, which isn’t recognised locally but is considered legitimate by FIFA.

The PFF led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who was elected to the post of president in an election conducted by the country’s Supreme Court following several years of turmoil, is recognised in the country.

Needing a miraculous comeback following their 2-0 first-leg loss in Phnom Penh last week, Hassan Bashir netted a first-half penalty to give Pakistan hope.

But Keo Sokpheng slotted past Pakistan goalkeeper Yousuf Butt after 64 minutes to calm Cambodian nerves and Reung Bunheing struck from close range in the final minute as former Jap­an international Keisuke Hon­da led them into the second round of Asian qualifying and a possible meeting with his homeland.

Honda played for Japan at three World Cups before retiring from internationals after the 2018 tournament but has been coaching Cambodia part time.

Asia’s first round of qualifying includes the continent’s 12 lowest-ranked teams, with six advancing to the second stage which kicks off in September when bigger teams like South Korea, Australia and Japan start their road to Qatar.

Asia has four guaranteed places at the finals while Qatar, who are the current Asian champions, qualify automatically as hosts. Another spot at the finals is available via an inter-confederation playoff.

Malaysia, Bangladesh, Guam and Mongolia also advanced on Tuesday.

Mongolia booked their place in the second round with a second-half penalty from Norjmoogiin Tsedenbal sealing their progress despite a 2-1 loss against Brunei.

Tsedenbal’s spot-kick two minutes into the second half meant Mongolia held on to claim a 3-2 aggregate win over Brunei, who had initially cancelled out the visitors’ first-leg advantage thanks to a first-half brace from Razimie Ramlli.

Malaysia, meanwhile, made easy work of Timor-Leste, with Shahrel Fikri scoring a hat-trick in a 5-1 win that completed a 12-2 aggr­egate success over the two legs.

Jason Cunliffe also scored three as Guam overturned a first-leg loss to oust Bhutan with a 5-0 victory on Tuesday as the United States territory secured a 5-1 aggregate win.

And Bangladesh advanced despite being held to a 0-0 draw by Laos in Dhaka, with their 1-0 win in the first leg last week enough to ensure they go through to the second round.

Only five of the six matchups were completed as Macau did not travel to Sri Lanka, citing security concerns following the deadly terrorist attacks in the country on Easter Sunday when three churches in Sri Lanka and three luxury hotels in Colombo were targeted in coordinated terrorist suicide bombings which killed over 250 people.

The Football Federation of Sri Lanka said it “fulfilled all security requirements” with FIFA and the AFC ahead of the match. The AFC said it will refer the matter to FIFA.

Macau won the first leg 1-0 in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai last Thursday and the team’s players released a joint statement on Sunday declaring they would be unavailable for future selection if the game did not go ahead.

“We are closer than ever to reach our main goal and we fought for too long to just let it slip between our hands,” the statement said. “It’s not guaranteed that we will go through to the next stage, but we want to go and fight the 90 minutes left to try and achieve our goal. For Macau, for us and for the future generations this could be an important step.”

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2019