Can Pakistan Women’s Football Team Make History in AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers?

The first round of the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournament is set to begin on 1st April 2023. This tournament would determine the nations who would take part in the Women’s Football competition at next summer’s Paris Olympics.

Pakistan Women’s Football Team has been drawn in Group E in the first round and will begin its campaign on 5th April 2023. After years of absence from the international circuit, due to the FIFA ban and unwanted third-party interference, Pakistan would be eager to make it to the Olympics for the first time in its history.

Key Members of the Pakistan Women’s Football Team

The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) on Saturday announced the 22-member squad that will be travelling to Tajikistan for the first round of AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers.

Maria Khan will be leading the Pakistan Women’s Football Team. She has been a revelation, since the FIFA ban on PFF was lifted, and has played an instrumental role in the recent success achieved by the Pakistan Women’s Football Team.

Malika-e-Noor was named the vice-captain of the team. The 28-year-old defender has won the greatest number of caps for the national side. She is also the joint-top scorer of all time for Pakistan.

Amina Hanif and Zahmena Malik who play their club football in England, for Chesham United and London Seaward respectively, have also been named in the 22-member squad.

But one noticeable absentee from the squad was Nadia Khan. The dazzling striker suffered an ACL injury whilst on Pakistan’s training camp in Dubai, as a result she was forced to fly back to England for treatment, hence missing out on Pakistan’s squad for the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers. The 22-year-old is the joint top scorer for Pakistan and became the first Pakistani woman to score four goals in an international game when Pakistan faced Maldives in the 2022 SAFF Women’s Championship.

The complete list of the Pakistan Women’s Football Team is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Fatima Naz, Nisha Ashraf, and Rumaysa Khan

Defenders: Malika-e-Noor (VC), Mishal Bhatti, Nizalia Siddiqui, Sahiba Sherdil, Sara Khan, and Sophia Qureshi

Midfielders: Aliza Sabir, Amina Hanif, Anushey Usman, Maria Khan (C), Marvi Baig, Rameen Fareed, and Suha Hirani

Forwards: Alia Sadiq, Anmol Hira, Isra Khan, Naqiyah Ali, Sanober Sattar, and Zahmena Malik.

Also Read: Football’s VAR vs Cricket’s DRS: Comparison Explained

Pakistan Women’s Football Team’s Chances of Progression

The Pakistan Women’s Football Team has been drawn into a tough group. They will be facing the Philippines, Tajikistan, and Hong Kong in the first round.

The Philippines are the favorite to advance to the next round. They are ranked 49th in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings and their players have experience playing in various football leagues in Europe and America. The Philippines Women’s National team has made great progress over the last couple of years, and they will be making their maiden World Cup appearance in the 2023 Women’s World Cup. They will surely pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s chances of progressing to the next round.

Other opponents that Pakistan will be facing in Group E are Tajikistan and Hong Kong. Tajikistan and Hong Kong are ranked 144th and 79th, respectively in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings. Unlike Pakistan players, the Hong Kong players have been playing regular international football and they have also got a competitive domestic league of their own. This makes them a formidable opponent and Pakistan Women will have to bring their A-game to defeat them.

Tajikistan is a weaker opponent as compared to the other sides that Pakistan would be facing. But they will be tough to play against as they will have the support of the home crowd on their side.

Road To Paris Olympics 2024

The path to Paris Olympics 2024 is quite competitive as only 2 berths from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have been allocated for the Women’s Football Competition. National teams of 25 AFC members will be going head to head against each other over the next 8 months to claim the two coveted spots at next summer’s Olympics.

The Olympic Qualifiers have been segregated into three rounds. 20 AFC member nations will be taking part in the first round. They have been divided into 7 Groups, and only group winners will progress to the next round.

The top five nations in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings as of 9th December 2022 were given byes to the second round. This included North Korea, Japan, Australia, China, and South Korea. In the second round, these nations will be joined by seven group winners from the first round. These 12 nations will then be drawn into three groups of four teams. From here, the three group winners and the best runner-up will advance to the third round.

The four nations will be drawn to play a pair of home and away matches against each other. The two eventual winners from each tie will then qualify for the Paris Olympics 2024.

Among all the sides taking part in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers, the Pakistan Women’s Football Team is ranked second lowest in the FIFA Women’s Rankings. It promises to be a very tough and challenging campaign for the Pakistan team. But their recent set of results will surely give them some encouragement. Under the captaincy of Maria Khan, the Pakistan Women’s Football Team has made great progress in the last few months. We have witnessed glimpses of their capabilities in the 2022 SAFF Championship and the 4-Nations Friendly Tournament in Saudi Arabia where they finished runners-up.

Years of political turmoil and financial instabilities have deprived a whole generation of Pakistan girls of playing for the National side. But competitions like these are a great opportunity for the Pakistani team to get international exposure and improve their skills.

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