KARACHI: Pakistan’s talented young centre-back Syed Abdullah Shah is upbeat ahead of round one of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup 2026, where the Shaheens will face Cambodia.
The matches will be held on October 12 and 17 this year, with Cambodia hosting the first leg and Pakistan second.
Pakistan also faced Cambodia in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers but lost in both legs in June 2019 with an aggregate score of 4-1.
However, Shah was confident that Pakistan, who have never won a World Cup Qualifier before, will be adequately prepared for the match against Cambodia since it will face tough opponents in the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024 Qualifiers before the crucial fixture.
Pakistan will travel to Bahrain to face Japan on September 6, the hosts on September 9, and Palestine on 12 of the same month in Group D of the U23 event.
“It’s going to be a repeat clash since we faced Cambodia during the 2022 World Cup qualifiers as well in 2019,” Shah told Geosuper.tv on Thursday.
“We are really confident about our chances since majority of our squad is U23. Before the World Cup qualifier, we will get matches against Japan, Bahrain and Palestine, in the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers, which are stronger opponents as compared to Cambodia. These matches will give us confidence before the World Cup qualifier.”
According to current FIFA Rankings, Cambodia are ranked 176, meanwhile Pakistan are 201.
The winner of the Pakistan-Cambodia clash will join Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Tajikistan in Group G for round two of the qualifiers.
Shah also hoped Pakistan’s squad would be complete before the World Cup Qualifier against Cambodia. He hinted at the inclusion of Adil Nabi, a midfielder who plays for Cypriot top-flight side Doxa Katokopias FC, and former Pakistan captain Kaleemullah Khan — who last played for Pakistan in 2020 during the tour of Malaysia.
“There will be two to three good additions to the squad. Adil Nabi might join us and Kaleemullah could make a comeback as well. The new additions will complete our squad,” he said.
“Winning and losing is in the hands of Allah Almighty but we will give our best on the field.”
It must be noted that the Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad is likely to host the home leg against Cambodia after proper renovations, which include the pitch and floodlights.
Pakistan last hosted a FIFA/AFC World Cup Qualifier in 2011, when Bangladesh played at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore.
Meanwhile, Jinnah Stadium last hosted an international match during the 2014 SAFF Women’s Championship.
Shah, who became the youngest Pakistani player to feature in a foreign League in 2022 after joining Dhivehi Sifainge Club in the Maldives second Division at the age of 21, also shed light on playing on home soil.
“I have played quite a few matches with the senior team as well as at junior level but none of them have been at home,” he said.
“Playing at home will definitely be advantageous for us since we know how the pitch behaves at the Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad or any other venue in the country. We will also have the support of the local crowd, which will motivate us to do well on the field.”
He also spoke about playing alongside fellow defender Easah Suliman, who changed his national eligibility from England in order to represent Pakistan earlier this year.
Suliman, who has also served England U19 as their captain, was part of the Pakistan squad for the four-nation cup in Mauritius and the SAFF Championship in India recently.
“Playing with Easah Suliman has been extremely beneficial for us. He truly is a gem of a player. He guides us on the field due to his experience which helps us improve in areas where we are lacking,” he said.
“Easah backs us even if we make mistakes on the field. Me and Mamoon [Musa Khan] have learned a lot from him during the time he has been with the team.”
Pakistan will need to improve to qualify for the next round of FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers since it has lost all eight matches, scoring just one goal, after FIFA lifted a 15-month suspension last year.