KARACHI: Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) began their title defence in style when they whipped Ashraf Sugar Mills from Bahawalpur 8-0 thanks to a double hat-trick from star striker Kaleemullah in their Group A opener of the National Football Challenge Cup at the Dring Stadium in Bahawalpur on Thursday.
Kaleem, who had hit five goals in KRL’s recent victory against Bhutan’s Yeedzin FC in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup in Philippines that put them in the final round, continued his explosive form, scoring six goals in the 21st, 26th, 30th, 54th, 66th and 77th minutes.
Kaleem, who was not fully fit, was joined on the scoresheet by Chaman-born international striker Saeed Ahmed who struck in the 41st and 45th minutes.
“The opponents were weak and inexperienced and we did not face any trouble at all,” KRL coach Tariq Lutfi told ‘The News’ after the match.
“Kaleem was not fully fit and he had been given the task to just convert chances without any exertion. He did that, effortlessly scoring goals through juicy feeding from wingers Abid and Adil who were duly assisted by the playmaker Mehmood Khan,” said Lutfi, a former Pakistan coach.
In the other match of the group, debutants Pak Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA) surprised Habib Bank Limited (HBL) with a goalless draw.
“We played a good game,” PACA co-owner and coach Mohammad Essa said.
“In the first half the boys created several chances but failed to capitalise on them. In the second half they looked exhausted due to simmering heat and in the end missed an open chance,” said Essa, a former Pakistan captain.
In Group D, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) defeated Higher Education Commission (HEC) 2-1. Irfan Ali put PAF ahead in the 34th minute before Mohammad Asif doubled their lead on the stroke of half time. Rashid Masih pulled one back for HEC in the 64th minute.
On Wednesday night, Pakistan Under-18 team held Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to a goalless draw in their Group C outing.
“We outclassed PIA but failed to convert chances,” Under-18 team coach Hasan Baloch said.
In the other encounter of the same group two-time Premier League winners Army outgunned Bhatti United FC from Faisalabad 5-1 with international Ansar Abbas making hat-trick by scoring goals in the 16th, 25th and on penalty in the 35th minute.
Zafarullah Javed (39th minute) and Mohammad Arif (70th minute) were the other contributors.
Meanwhile, the matches which were scheduled to be held at Ground No 2 have been shifted to Ground No 1 because of the poor condition of the pitch and lack of facilities.
A team official complained that the pitch of the Dring Stadium was hard and fast. He said it was very difficult for the players to fight against the heat due to lack of facilities which should have been there for such a major event.