Pakistan’s 1-0 victory over Cambodia in a World Cup qualifier this week hardly registered on soccer’s radar yet such was the significance for the national team that manager Stephen Constantine said he had never seen so many grown men cry.
A 67th minute goal by Harun Hamid in the second leg ensured Pakistan progressed to the second round of Asia’s World Cup 2026 on aggregate having drawn 0-0 draw in Phnom Penh.
It was Pakistan’s first-ever World Cup qualifying round win and the country’s first international victory of any sort since 2018 and sparked celebrations at Islamabad’s Jinnah Sports Stadium.
Englishman Constantine had only taken over in late September, tasked with ending a 13-match losing sequence with a squad pieced together from home and overseas-based players, some of whom had not played a competitive match for months.
“It is an unbelievable atmosphere here, I’ve not seen so many grown men cry in all my life,” the 61-year-old Constantine, whose coaching career includes stints in charge of Nepal, Malawi, Sudan, Rwanda and India, told the BBC.
“It is a massive deal; in their 75-year history it is the first time they’ve qualified for the second stage, they haven’t won since 2018 and it was the first home game for eight and a half years. It has been unbelievably emotional.
“I’ve only been here three and a half weeks, not even. I’m just really pleased for the people, the players and Pakistan football.”
Cricket is by far the most popular sport in Pakistan with soccer a very distant poor relation in comparison.
Ranked 197th in the world, Pakistan were banned by world soccer body FIFA in April 2021 for 15 months because of ‘undue third party interference’ — their second ban in four years.
“We don’t have regular football; half of them have part-time jobs ... and that makes the double result even more impressive. Some of them haven’t played for months,” Constantine said.
Pakistan will now face matches against Asia powerhouse Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Jordan in the second round, which begins in November although Constantine does not know whether he will still be in charge as he is on a short-term arrangement.
“The next game is away to Saudi Arabia in November, so welcome to the real world! My current deal finishes in the next three days ...” he said.
“They cannot give me a full one-year, two-year term. The PFF (Pakistan Football Federation) will have to come up with some sort of plan. I’m assuming they want me to stay but we’ll see.”