AMMAN: Pakistan are slowly coming to grips with the level of football in the second round of 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifying and after their best result so far in Group ‘G’, Stephen Constantine’s men would be looking to do even better when they face Jordan on Thursday.

Jordan won the reverse fixture in Islamabad 3-0 on Tuesday and welcome Pakistan to the Amman International Stadium for their first international match since their historic run to the AFC Asian Cup final last month.

The Jordanian side had an audience with King Abdullah II on Monday in a celebration of their first-ever appearance in the final of Asia’s blue-riband tournament, where they lost to Qatar.

And playing in front of their home fans for the first time since the Asian Cup, Hussein Ammouta’s men would be looking to complete the double against Pakistan, who are rock-bottom in the group.

Pakistan, competing for the first time in the second round of qualifying, have lost all three of their matches so far, having opened with a 4-0 defeat in Saudi Arabia before being thrashed 6-1 at home by Tajikistan.

But in the game against Jordan, they showed they’re coming to terms with the standard at this level and Constantine was hopeful his charges would continue to improve.

“This is going to be our sixth game since I arrived, and every game we are a little bit better,” he told reporters on Monday. “The players have given absolutely everything in the seven months I’ve been with the team.”

Pakistan were undone by two early goals in their home fixture, with Jordan grabbing a third late on. But they defended bravely and created some chances of their own to raise hopes of better days ahead as the team continues to gel during every international window.

Pakistan, however, have a defensive conundrum with centre-back Abdullah Iqbal suspended for the game due to accumulation of yellow cards.

While Pakistan are using these matches against the Asian elite as preparation for the third-round of qualifying for the 2027 Asian Cup, Jordan have higher aims as they are looking to finish among the top two teams in Group ‘G’ and advance to the next round of qualifying for the 48-team World Cup in United States, Canada in Mexico.

Having picked up just a point from their opening two qualifier, Jordan kick-started their campaign with victory against Pakistan last week. Tougher tests lie ahead in the form of Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia, and Jordan can’t affort to slip-up against Pakistan.

Jordan can claim second spot at the conclusion of this round of matches with a victory if Tajikistan suffer defeat against Saudi Arabia in the other group game.

“We’re looking to continue our ascent as a national team and play like we did at the Asian Cup,” Ammouta told reporters on Monday.

Ammouta will also have his eyes on the goals column against Pakistan as his side looks to improve its goal difference.

“We respect our rivals,” he said. “We are striving to achieve victory and score as many goals as possible.”

In the group’s other fixture, Saudi Arabia, who have won all three games so far, can secure their spot in the next stage if they can complete back-to-back wins over Tajikistan following their win at Riyadh last week.

“We know that Tajikistan is a strong team and has been improving,” Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini said. “It will be a tough game for us but we are looking forward to the challenge.”

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2024

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