Football: Pakistan coach on target ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Stephen Constantine has already guided the nation to a historic victory, and has already spoken of the upcoming tournament qualifiers

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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Published: Wed 15 Nov 2023, 11:49 PM

After being appointed the head coach of the Pakistan football team just a few weeks ago, Stephen Constantine has already guided the nation to a historic victory.

The Pakistan football team, under Constantine, earned their first win in three decades at the World Cup qualifiers. It was the valuable 1-0 win against Cambodia in the second leg of their Asian first-round 2026 World Cup qualifier. Constantine had taken over as the Pakistan coach just days before their first-leg tie in Cambodia last month.

Following the monumental triumph, Constantine revelled in a birthday celebration along with the Pakistan footballers.

“Well, they ended up making history. Got me the win and went on to smash two cakes in my face,” Constantine revealed during an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera.

The win against Cambodia at the Jinnah Sports Stadium in Islamabad helped Pakistan secure a berth in the second qualification round. Pakistan now finds them in a group that comprises Asian heavyweights like Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Jordan.

Prior to the first-leg tie against Cambodia in October, Pakistan were enduring a hapless 13-match losing run that dated back to 2018. Things changed soon under Constantine. The English coach, who has managed the Indian football team on two separate occasions, very well knows that the job is not over yet. Constantine may feel relieved by Pakistan’s stunning victory but at the same time, the 61-year-old is trying to remain pragmatic.

“Look, I am a realist. We are not going to the World Cup. We are not ready for that. We could possibly lose all six of these games. But these six matches will shape how we are going to be as a team going forward, and I am here for that. I want to build for the future, not the past. I do not care how old you are. All I care about is: can you do what this team needs,” Constantine told a news media outlet.

Pakistan, who currently occupy the 193rd position in Fifa rankings, will next face Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the Asian qualifiers second round for the 2026 World Cup on Thursday. The match will take place at the Abdullah Al-Dabal Stadium in Dammam. It will certainly be a Herculean task for Pakistan to clinch victory against 57th-ranked Saudi Arabia who are currently managed by renowned Italian coach Roberto Mancini.

Before joining the Pakistan football team, Constantine had handled managerial duties for teams like Nepal, Malawi, Sudan, Rwanda and India. Under his coaching, India had jumped from 173rd in Fifa’s world rankings to the 97th spot. After capping off an impressive stint as the Indian football team's head coach, Constantine is now focused on Pakistan.

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