Pakistan’s participation in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers has been a roller coaster ride of emotions, marked by a historic victory, heavy defeats, and a glimmer of hope for the future. While the ultimate goal of reaching the World Cup seems improbable at this stage, the journey has provided valuable lessons and laid the groundwork for long-term development. For a team that was suspended twice for competing in FIFA tournaments, it has surely come a long way.
Pakistan Beats the Losing Streak
The first round of the qualifiers saw Pakistan script history by defeating Cambodia, marking their first-ever win in World Cup qualifiers. This victory, secured by Harun Hamid’s crucial goal, shattered a 12-match losing streak and injected much-needed confidence into the team. It was a moment of immense pride for the nation and a testament to the dedication of players and coaches.
However, the second round presented a stark reality check. Placed alongside significantly stronger teams like Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Jordan, the Pakistani team faced the harshness of international competition. Heavy defeats exposed the significant gap in quality, highlighting the need for substantial improvement in various aspects. Saudi Arabia defeated Pakistan by 4-0, and Tajikistan won by 6-1. The next match is against Jordan on 21 March 2024.
A Glimmer of Hope for the Future
The qualifiers might not have been a fairytale for Pakistan but they serve as a vital learning experience. They have identified areas for improvement, such as enhancing player fitness and technical skills, and developing a more sophisticated tactical approach. Addressing these weaknesses is crucial for the team’s long-term growth and its ability to compete effectively on the international stage.
The journey seems long, but with concerted efforts and a commitment to improvement, Pakistan can transform its footballing landscape and achieve its full potential on the global stage. The team displayed improved organization and determination compared to past performances, demonstrating a fighting spirit that bodes well for the future. Moreover, the experience gained from playing against higher-ranked teams provides valuable insights into the areas where the team needs to focus its development efforts.
While the World Cup dream seems distant for Pakistan at this point, the path forward remains filled with opportunities. The remaining fixtures offer a chance to secure a place in the third round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2027 Asian Cup. This would be a significant achievement and a stepping stone towards future success.
Football Facilities in Pakistan Require Attention
Unfortunately, the state of football facilities in Pakistan is also not ideal, and this has certainly hampered the development of the sport in the country. As the consequence of this lackluster infrastructure, Pakistani players are at a disadvantage against teams with access to better facilities.
The passion for football in Pakistan runs deep, with millions of fans cheering for their national team and embracing the sport at local levels. However, this enthusiasm often collides with the harsh reality of sorry infrastructure. While recent years have seen some positive developments, the overall state of football facilities in Pakistan remains far from perfect. It has historically hindered the country’s ability to develop its footballing talent and achieve international success.
While recent government investments and private initiatives have led to the construction and renovation of some stadiums and training grounds, the overall quality remains insufficient. This lack is particularly acute in rural areas, where aspiring players often lack access to even basic training environments, limiting their opportunities to compete. Moreover, playing on subpar pitches and in poorly maintained facilities can also increase the risk of injuries.
Poor maintenance of many existing facilities further exacerbates the problem. Lack of basic amenities and uneven distribution across the country create a disparity in access to resources, which is a huge disadvantage to players in certain regions. This not only limits their training but can also demotivate them and ultimately impact team morale.
Addressing this issue requires increased investments from both the government and the private sector, with a specific focus on developing facilities in rural areas. This will not only lead to stronger national teams and international success, but it will also provide a platform for young players to hone their skills, build their careers, and inspire future generations of footballers.
FIFA Suspension of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF)
Pakistan has faced two FIFA suspensions in recent years, both stemming from undue third-party interference in the governance of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
FIFA threatened to suspend the PFF’s membership if it kept refusing to hand over football affairs to its president-elect Faisal Saleh Hayat in July 2017. The dispute arose from a legal challenge to Hayat’s election, which the Supreme Court of Pakistan had upheld. FIFA considered the government’s interference in the PFF’s electoral process to be a violation of its statutes.
Following FIFA’s warning, the PFF Normalization Committee, appointed by FIFA to oversee the PFF’s affairs until the next general elections, took control of the PFF headquarters in Islamabad. However, a group of officials loyal to Hayat refused to relinquish control, leading to a protracted standoff. Ultimately, FIFA announced the suspension of the PFF with immediate effect in October 2017, citing the “undue third-party interference” as the reason. The suspension meant that Pakistan’s national teams were barred from participating in international competitions, and the PFF was no longer eligible for FIFA funding or development assistance.
After nearly two years of suspension, the PFF Normalization Committee finally succeeded in gaining full control of the PFF headquarters and resolving the legal disputes surrounding Hayat’s election. FIFA announced the lifting of the suspension in March 2019, allowing Pakistan’s football teams to resume international competition and the PFF to receive FIFA funding and support.
In March 2021, the PFF headquarters was once again seized by a group of officials loyal to Hayat, who had been removed from office by the Supreme Court in 2019. This action was considered another instance of undue third-party interference, and FIFA responded by suspending the PFF with immediate effect in April 2021. The suspension once again barred Pakistan’s national teams from international competition and cut off the PFF’s access to FIFA funding and support. However, unlike the first suspension, which lasted for nearly two years, the second suspension was lifted relatively quickly.
After negotiations between FIFA and the PFF Normalization Committee, a roadmap was agreed upon to address the governance issues within the PFF. FIFA announced the lifting of the suspension in June 2022, allowing Pakistan’s football teams to return to international competition and the PFF to resume its FIFA-funded programs.
To prevent future suspensions, it is crucial for the PFF to maintain strict adherence to FIFA’s statutes and ensure that there is no external interference in its governance. The PFF should also prioritize transparency and accountability in its operations to foster trust and confidence among stakeholders.