By Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
For former Pakistan coach Shahzad Anwar, this season has been a revelation of sorts. Not only did his team eventually finish in the top four spots of the Pakistan Premier League but lifted silverware after beating Karachi giants KESC in the NBP National Challenge Cup final.
Shahzad, who is one of the few A-licensed coaches in Pakistan, took over the Pakistan Air Force team last year and guided them from being minnows in the League to a force to be reckoned with.
And when the draws for Pakistan’s premier cup competition were announced, he had only one thing in his mind.
“We wanted to win the National Challenge Cup. Our group was very tough, but our players were motivated and wanted to play KRL FC in the knock-out stages,” said Shahzad during an exclusive interview with FootballPakistan.com.
After navigating past the group phase, Shahzad and his players tackled the fearsome KRL, who were without their star duo Adil and Kaleem.
“Adil and Kaleem are good players. But KRL also have other able players including many current Internationals,” added the young PAF boss.
Shahzad also cast his opinion on the opponents he came across during the Challenge Cup, claiming that Karachi Port Trust were not the team they once were and that runners-up K-Electric lack youthful speed despite boasting a very experienced squad.
“KPT are not a very strong side. We missed several goal-scoring chances.”
“They (K-Electric) have experienced players, but they are all aged. Mohammad Essa, Mohammad Rasool and veteran goalkeeper Ghulam Nabi are all past their prime. In the opening 90 minutes, it was a 1-1 draw and KESC dominated possession in the first half. They have a lot of experience and it was their 4th National Challenge Cup final,” claimed the former Pakistan coach.
“In the second half, they were struggling because of their fitness.”
This was Shahzad’s first major test as a coach in the Pakistan Premier League, but he was well-prepared for it, having managed Pakistan internationally on both junior and senior fronts, besides attending a special coaching course in Brazil.
However, the tactician proved his worth during the course of the season and eventually guided an unfancied Pakistan Air Force team to 4th place in the Pakistan Premier League.
And talking about his team, Shahzad claimed that things were hardly ideal as he took charge of the squad after the 2013 SAFF Cup, which meant he could not indict any new changes.
“I joined the team after the SAFF Cup 2013 and because of that I wasn’t able to make any changes. I kept the same formation, but analyzed the team’s weaknesses in midfield and defence. I played the players in the same position as before, but worked on their positional awareness and duties,” said Anwar while talking to FootballPakistan.com.
Those coaching sessions clearly paid off as Shahzad’s squad were flying high in the Karachi-leg of the PPFL, but in the latter stages owing to various seasons, the Pilots were unable to maintain their superb form.
“During the Pakistan Premier League fixtures in Karachi, we were 2nd in the League. In Lahore, we beat the reigning champions KRL, but due to injuries and National Team call-ups for some of our players, we weren’t able to maintain our form.”
Lastly, Shahzad added that the team will now be focusing on the Inter-Services tournament next month and had special praise for striker Mohammad Mujahid, who was the top-scorer of the NBP National Challenge Cup and the team’s main source for goals.
“We also improved our disciplinary record from last season and that prevented unnecessary omissions from the squad. Mujahid is a great goal-scorer and we will need his abilities, when we play in the Inter-Services tournament next month,” the Pakistan Air Force coach was quoted as saying to FootballPakistan.com in an exclusive interview.