Pakistan men’s football team qualified for the 2nd round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the first time in its 76 years of history this year, when they beat Cambodia 1-0 at Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad. Pakistan is the only FIFA-registered country in the world that doesn’t have a league system and their home-based players have nothing to play in till the national team’s next match in March 2024.
There is a common misconception in Pakistan that no one watches or plays football in the country. Pakistan is ranked 193rd in FIFA World Rankings (might fall further after the 6-1 defeat to Tajikistan 2 days ago) but this doesn’t portray the value of football to Pakistan’s masses.
"Pakistan mein football kaun dekhta hai" [THREAD]
— FootballPakistan.com (@FootballPak) November 20, 2017
A brilliant thread provided by X-account ‘FootballPakistan.com’ illustrates the love for the sport of football in various cities of Pakistan. It is believed that Pakistan is a one-sport country, which is true if we talk about the finances and marketing proceeds going to cricket, but when we see the ground reality of the love towards football, one might decide to change their opinion.
In the historic match between Pakistan and Cambodia, more than 13,000 people came to watch the match. It was the first football match on Pakistani soil after 6 years. The last time a country visited Pakistan was in 2017 when Afghanistan crossed the border and played in Lahore. Pakistan defeated Cambodia through a Harun Hamid strike, which enabled the country to progress to the 2nd round of a FIFA World Cup qualifier for the first time in its history.
After qualifying for the 2nd round, Pakistan played its first match on home soil in the 2nd round of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Tajikistan in Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad. It amassed close to double the amount that came to watch the Pakistan-Cambodia encounter.
According to figures provided by Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalization Committee (NC) Chairperson, Haroon Malik, over 22,500 spectators came to the stadium. It should be noted that the match was on a weekday, and that too during office/school hours. Such a turnover is a huge success for the sport in the country.
As per final numbers released by our partners @bookmepk we had just over 22,500 football fans in the stadium for Pakistan vs Tajikistan! Massive!! Thank you Pakistan and thank you to all our fans! Pakistan Zindabad!
— Haroon M. (@GotT0_) November 23, 2023
The football community has seen progress in the last year or so, but the cherry on top of the cake would be a proper league in the country. Pakistan-based players have no league to play in, as they will continue practicing in their cities/villages till the next assignment comes in March 2024. The quicker the league system starts, the quicker the progression of the national team can be seen.
Pakistan’s head coach, Stephen Constantine, has conveyed that qualifying for the 2027 AFC Asian Cup is our team’s goal, but with the right progression, we can target qualifying for the 2038 FIFA World Cup.