HIROSHIMA: Japan’s Yuki Soma (fifth L) scores past Syria goalkeeper Esteban Glellel from the penalty spot during their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Edion Peace Wing Hiroshima Stadium on Tuesday.—AFP
HIROSHIMA: Japan’s Yuki Soma (fifth L) scores past Syria goalkeeper Esteban Glellel from the penalty spot during their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Edion Peace Wing Hiroshima Stadium on Tuesday.—AFP

DUSHANBE: Half of Pakistan’s squad had only reached the Tajik capital hours before kick-off. The outcome was inevitable.

Pakistan lost their final Group ‘G’ qualifier in the second round of Asia’s qualifying for the 2026 World Cup on Tuesday when Stephen Constantine’s men fell 3-0 to Tajikistan at the Pamir Stadium to finish bottom of their group.

Only on the intervention of the Prime Minister had Pakistan been able to take the field. Nine players and two officials had been stranded after a flight cancellation and they travelled Tuesday morning on a chartered plane arranged by the Pakistan Air Force.

But Pakistan started well in a game that had no bearing on the outcome of the group standings with Tajikistan having been assured a third-place finish behind Saudi Arabia and Jordan with both teams set to play the third round of qualifying of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

Pakistan kept out the Tajiks, playing in front of a fervent home crowd, for the opening half an hour only to fall behind five minutes later after the defence went to sleep.

No one closed down Vahdat Khanovov and the defender, who plays for Iran’s Persepolis, had plenty of time to pick out a perfect lofted pass that went over the top of the Pakistani defence and landed perfectly on the left foot of Shervoni Mabatshoev.

The striker’s first touch took him wide, clear of the Pakistan defenders and the right foot shot that followed gave goalkeeper Yousuf Butt no chance.

Tajikistan came close to getting a second in the 57th when Mabatshoev saw his arrowing volley, after a corner fell into his path, come back off the crossbar.

But they made it 2-0 in the 65th when Manucher Safarov scored before Khananov added Tajikistan’s third with a blinder five minutes later when he let fly from just beyond the centre circle and his rising shot hit the roof of the net.

This was only the first time that Pakistan had advanced to the second round of qualifying for the World Cup but the performance showed there is still lots of work to be done if Constantine is able to achieve his aim of taking the side to the Asian Cup.

CHINA SQUEEZE INTO NEXT STAGE

Elsewhere around the continent as the last round of group matches were played, China squeezed into the third round of the preliminaries by the narrowest of margins despite slipping to a 1-0 loss at the hands of South Korea in Seoul.

Indonesia and North Korea also confirmed their spot in the next round with the Chinese qualifying as runners-up in Group ‘C’ behind the South Koreans after Thailand could only register a 3-1 victory over Singapore.

Needing to win by three clear goals, or to score at least four with a two-goal victory margin, to climb above the Chinese in the standings, Masatada Ishii’s side fell agonisingly short of a spot in the draw for the next round on June 27.

Suphanat Mueanta put Thailand in front eight minutes before the break but Thailand-based forward Ikhsan Fandi levelled 12 minutes after the restart for the Singaporeans.

A frantic Thailand pushed forward as time ticked down with Poramet Arjvirai and Jaroensak Wonggorn scoring in the last 11 minutes to take their side closer to their target, but ultimately they fell short.

The Chinese had earlier lost in Seoul World Cup Stadium when Lee Kang-in scored from close range in the 61st minute to leave Branko Ivankovic and his players sweating on the outcome of the game in Bangkok.

In contrast to the crushing disappointment in Bangkok, Indonesia celebrated reaching the third qualifying round for the first time with a 2-0 home victory over the Philippines.

Indonesia joined Iraq in advancing out of Group ‘F’, with Thom Haye and Rizky Ridho the goal-scoring heroes in front of a raucous crowd of 64,000 at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.

Netherlands-born midfielder Haye put the home side in front 32 minutes into the game when he bent a perfectly judged right foot shot into the top corner of Kevin Mendoza’s goal.

The victory was secured through a glanced header by Ridho in the 56th minute that gave the unprotected Mendoza little chance as Indonesia confirmed a second-place finish behind Iraq.

FIVE-STAR JAPAN

Elsewhere, coach Hajime Moriyasu warned Japan that the third qualifying round will be “a completely different level” after thrashing Syria 5-0 to go through with a 100 percent record.

Moriyasu’s side completed the second qualifying stage on maximum points with 24 goals scored and none conceded after an easy win in Hiroshima.

Japan are looking to qualify for their eighth straight World Cup when the tournament takes place in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“We were facing a team that had to win, and the players got the result by working hard to prepare, doing the things that they had to do,” said the coach. “But the final round coming up will be a completely different level from the second round.”

North Korea thrashed Myanmar 4-1 in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to leapfrog Syria and join Japan in moving out of Group ‘B’.

In a dead rubber in Group ‘I’, Australia thrashed Palestine 5-0 in Perth with Portsmouth’s Kusini Yengi scoring twice, one from the spot. Both sides were already into the next phase.

Like Japan, Australia had maximum points in the second phase and did not concede a goal in six games.

In Group ‘A’, a late Eid Al Rashedi goal gave Kuwait a 1-0 win against Afghanistan, sealing their place in the next stage of qualifying at the expense of their opponents and India, who lost 2-1 to group-toppers Qatar.

Later on Tuesday, Kyrgyzstan take on Oman needing to avoid a heavy defeat to advance from Group ‘D’ alongside the Gulf nation after Malaysia recorded a 3-1 win over Taiwan.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Olympics contingent
21 Jul, 2024

Olympics contingent

FROM 10 in Tokyo the last time, it is now down to seven in Paris, and split across just three disciplines. When...
Grave concerns
21 Jul, 2024

Grave concerns

PUNJAB Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz’s open assault on the Supreme Court for ruling in favour of the PTI in the...
Civil unrest
Updated 21 Jul, 2024

Civil unrest

The government must start putting out fires instead of fanning more flames.
Royal tantrum
Updated 20 Jul, 2024

Royal tantrum

The PML-N's confrontational stance and overt refusal to respect courts orders on arguably flimsy pretexts is a dangerous sign.
Bangladesh chaos
Updated 20 Jul, 2024

Bangladesh chaos

The unfortunate events playing out in Bangladesh should serve as a warning sign for other South Asian states.
Fitch’s estimate
20 Jul, 2024

Fitch’s estimate

FITCH seems to be more optimistic about Pakistan accelerating its economic growth rate to 3.2pc during this fiscal...