PAKISTAN head coach Stephen Constantine gestures as he speaks to reporters on Saturday.—courtesy PFF NC
PAKISTAN head coach Stephen Constantine gestures as he speaks to reporters on Saturday.—courtesy PFF NC

LAHORE: Jordan are perhaps the toughest opponents Pakistan will face in their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign and head coach Stephen Constantine isn’t happy with the build-up.

While the Englishman said he was preparing a team that wouldn’t go down without a fight, he admitted there is little he can do.

Having been thrashed by both Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan in their opening Group ‘G’ games, things are only going to get tougher for Pakistan when they face home and away fixtures against a Jordan side on a high after reaching the final of the AFC Asian Cup earlier this month.

Jordan had a stunning run at the Asian Cup where they advanced to the title match for the first time in their history, only to lose to hosts and defending champions Qatar.

On their way to the final, they saw off a Tajikistan side that humbled Pakistan 6-1 in October, and Constantine knows his side face a stern test with little preparation.

“It’s difficult obviously for Pakistan to play the World Cup Qualifiers and face adamant opponents, who are football giants in Asia,” he told reporters after the national team’s training session at the Model Town Ground on Saturday. “We have had very little time to prepare for such a big game. And unfortunately, we are going to play one of the best teams in Asia.

“We were supposed to hold a camp in January that didn’t materialise. We weren’t able to hold any friendly games. We are facing Jordan with very little preparation. We’re working on the things we can work on. I can’t control those things. We will compete, we will fight, we will not lay down for anybody.”

Pakistan host Jordan at Islamabad’s Jinnah Stadium on March 21 before travelling to Amman for the return match five days later.

Constantine reiterated Pakistan are not in the running to qualify for the World Cup, having gone beyond the first stage of qualifying for the first time in their history in this campaign.

No, we are not going to play this World Cup and maybe not the next World Cup as well,” he said. “I am trying to prepare the team for the Asian Cup Qualifiers and the SAFF Championship.”

The top two teams from the group advance into the third qualifying round of the World Cup whilst also locking their berths at the 2027 AFC Asian Cup. The bottom two finishers go into the third qualifying round of the Asian Cup and Constantine said he was using these matches as preparation for the games ahead.

“These [matches] will help the players gain experience and exposure that will benefit them in the long run,” said the 61-year-old, who once again lamented the lack of domestic football in the country.

The training camp currently underway comprises solely of local-based players, who haven’t had a taste of regular activity with domestic football in the country having come to a halt under the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee.

Constantine said the diaspora players, who will be joining the team aren’t the solution.

“Diaspora players will be here by Sunday or Monday,” he informed. “We have to see the condition they come in because they’re playing games over the weekend. We don’t know if they’re free from injuries. We will face each problem one at a time.

“We had seven diaspora players but we still got beat [against Tajikistan] so you can’t say they’re going to be the solution of all of our problems.”

A visibly-upset Constantine also took a dig at his employers for the lack of domestic activity.

“How are we going to find the players, how are we going to develop them if theyre not playing?” questioned Constantine. “The level of the diaspora players is not some top leagues of Europe… they’re playing more consistently than our boys are here so that’s the advantage that they have.

“We need to do something here. We had a PFF Challenge Cup with 32 teams so start it from there. Take 16 of them and start the league. It’s not my area of expertise but we had 32 teams in the Challenge Cup so why do we need teams from all districts. I don’t know what’s going on but they need to fix this quickly.”

Responding to a question whether Pakistan could spring a surprise against Jordan on similar lines to 2007, when the national team held then-Asian champions Iraq to a goalless draw, Constantine countered by asking whether Pakistan had a league back then.

Told that a league was functioning back then, he said: “There’s your answer.”

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2024

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