Tajiks teach Pakistan football lesson in 6-1 drubbing

Published November 22, 2023
ISLAMABAD: Tajikistan’s Amadoni Kamolov shoots at goal during their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Pakistan at the Jinnah Stadium on Tuesday.
—Mohammad Asim/White Star
ISLAMABAD: Tajikistan’s Amadoni Kamolov shoots at goal during their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Pakistan at the Jinnah Stadium on Tuesday. —Mohammad Asim/White Star

ISLAMABAD: Stephen Constantine had admitted Pakistan were the underdogs but the head coach was baffled by the way his charges crumbled against Tajikistan on Tuesday.

The 61-year-old had just overseen his side being overrun in a 6-1 thrashing in their second Group ‘G’ match in the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup here at the Jinnah Stadium and was visibly upset at how his team had played in front of a capacity crowd of over 18,000.

“At this level, you can’t make the mistakes we made,” Constantine told reporters at a news conference, the loss following a 4-0 defeat by Saudi Arabia five days earlier. “We couldn’t execute our plan while the Tajiks stuck to theirs.”

It was ironic that the microphone malfunctioned as Constantine was speaking — once again the Englishman lamenting the deplorable state of football in Pakistan — and he responded by angrily pushing it aside.

His side had earlier been pushed aside by an inspired Tajikistan side, who had raced into a 4-1 lead at half-time and could’ve won by more.

“It was a fantastic performance by my side,” Tajikistan coach Petar Segrt told reporters. “We’ll make every attempt to reach the next round of World Cup qualifying.”

The top two sides in each of the nine qualifying groups advance to the third round of qualifying for the expanded 48-team World Cup in United States, Canada and Mexico. They also secure a spot at the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, with the bottom two moving into the third round of qualifying for the continental showpiece.

Last year, Tajikistan secured a place at this year’s Asian Cup by winning their group in the third qualifying round. That’s the target Constantine has set for his men but on Tuesday’s performance, it seems like a tall order.

It took Tajikistan just nine minutes to open the scoring with Amadoni Kamalov, who scored a brace, tapping in a rebound after a shot by Parvizchon Umarbayev was guided onto the post by goalkeeper Yousuf Butt.

Petar Segrt’s side made it 2-0 four minutes later when Rustam Soirov’s long-range effort got the slightest of deflections and left Yousuf with no chance.

It was then that Pakistan had their brightest moment of the afternoon, Rahis Nabi’s letting fly with his left foot and finding the top corner in the 21st to send the home crowd into raptures.

The joy, however, was short-lived as Umarbayev restored Tajikistan’s two-goal advantage five minutes later and Ehson Panjshanbe added their fourth with a first-time shot in the 45th as the visitors exploited the gaps in Pakistan’s midfield and defensive lines.

Pakistan were missing first-choice right-back Umar Hayat as well as left-back Shayek Dost due to suspension and debutant Mohibullah Afridi had a torrid time covering for Umar.

Constantine attempted to strengthen the midfield at half-time, bringing on Rajab Ali for Harun Hamid, the man who scored the winner for Pakistan in their famous victory over Cambodia in the first qualifying round.

He made another double switch past the hour mark but Tajikistan soon extended their advantage when Kamalov got his second, firing in from the edge of the area. The misery was complete when Shahrom Samiev netted a rebound in the last minute of the game.

“It’s been a learning curve for us,” Constantine said, admitting that Pakistan’s lack of domestic football structure was hurting players’ growth as they didn’t have consistent competition. “We’ll try to do better against Jordan in the next round of games.”

Pakistan face Jordan home and away in the next round of matches in March next year. Jordan, who drew 1-1 with Tajikistan in their opening match, were facing Saudi Arabia in Amman later on Tuesday.

Agencies add: Elsewhere on Tuesday, Palestinian flags and the black-and-white keffiyeh scarf flew high in Kuwait’s Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium as football fans vented their emotions in their Group ‘I’ qualifier against Australia.

Thousands of Palestinians and their sympathisers turned out at the 60,000-seat venue for the game, Palestine’s first in front of fans since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Defender Harry Souttar’s 18th-minute goal was all that separated the teams in a 1-0 win for Australia where the action on the pitch was almost incidental.

Australia opened with a 7-0 thrashing of Bangladesh and top the section with Bangladesh and Lebanon sharing a 1-1 draw in the group’s other game in Dhaka.

South Korea also made it two victories from two after skipper Son Heung-min scored a brace and set up the other in a 3-0 win in China.

Son silenced a sell-out crowd of more than 40,000 in Shenzhen with two goals in the first half, the first a penalty and the second a clever header from a corner just before half-time.

South Korea, who thumped Singapore 5-0 last week to begin their qualifying campaign in style, wrapped the game up in the dying minutes through a bullet header by Jung Seung-hyun — from a Son free-kick — and they top Group ‘C’ with a perfect six points while it was China’s first defeat after winning against Thailand on Thursday.

 SHENZHEN: South Korea’s Cho Gue-Sung (bottom) vies for the ball with Wu Xi of China during their match at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre on Tuesday.—Reuters
SHENZHEN: South Korea’s Cho Gue-Sung (bottom) vies for the ball with Wu Xi of China during their match at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre on Tuesday.—Reuters

The Thais bounced back from that loss to beat Singapore 3-1 loss with Suphanat Mueanta scoring twice in the second half for Mano Polking’s team, who move level with China on three points.

Mohanad Ali scored six minutes into injury time to earn Iraq a 1-0 win over hosts Vietnam in Group ‘F’ as Jesus Casas’ side moved onto six points.

Vietnam remain in second in the group standings after the Philippines and Indonesia shared a 1-1 draw in Manila.

Iran surrendered a two-goal lead and had to settle for a point with a 2-2 draw at Uzbekistan. The two sides share the lead in Group ‘E’ with Hong Kong and Turkmenistan also equally sharing four goals in the other game of the section.

Hong Kong twice came back from behind with Everton Camargo scoring midway through the second half to secure a point after Ruslan Mingazow had scored both goals for the visitors.

Jong Il Gwan scored a hat-trick as North Korea picked up their first win of the campaign with a 6-1 thrashing of Myanmar in Yangon having started their quest for a place at the finals last Thursday with a draw against Syria in Group ‘B’.

The moved into second place behind Japan, who stayed perfect by winning 5-0 for a second time in five days with Iase Ueda scoring twice against Syria at the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium in Jeddah.

Substitute Darren Lok claimed the only goal as Malaysia defeated Taiwan in Taipei in Group ‘D’. Kyrgyzstan bounced back from their narrow 4-3 loss to Malaysia on Thursday by edging Oman 1-0 in the group’s other game.

Published in Dawn, November 22th, 2023

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