Umaid Wasim – DAWN
LAHORE: With a scintillating volley, Farooq Shah secured Pakistan Premier Football League survival for the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP).
Receiving the ball on the bounce from substitute Adnan Mazhar, the veteran striker wrapped his foot around the ball from outside the box in the 83rd minute to seal a 1-0 victory for the NBP against Pakistan Army and ensure they finished tenth this season.
“I saw the Army goalkeeper off his line and I knew this was a chance to settle the contest,” Farooq told Dawn at the end of the match at the Railways Football Stadium.
“This was a million-dollar goal for me because it means we will be in the PPFL next season.”
As Farooq reeled off in celebration following the goal, his head-coach Nasir Ismail jubilated wildly on the touch-line. “It was a crucial game for us as we needed a point to be sure of PPFL survival,” Nasir told Dawn afterwards.
“It was an unbelievable goal by Farooq. I’d sent on Adnan so that we could take advantage on the counter-attack and the boys did exactly that.”
The NBP went into the match in 12th place and facing relegation if they couldn’t get a point against Army.
Instead, they ended their campaign with 37 points, pipping Habib Bank Limited (HBL) into the bottom six.
The HBL will be relegated from the PPFL along with Pakistan Navy — with both teams ending on 35 points, Pak-Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA), Lyallpur FC, Baloch FC Noushki and the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL).
The PPFL will see 12 teams competing next year as Pakistan Railways and Baloch FC Quetta will be promoted from the Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL).
“The relegation of six teams will ensure more quality football in the league,” Nasir added. “This will lead to more competitive football being played and the standard of the league will certainly improve.”
Nasir added that the NBP will need to strengthen their side if they are to remain in the PPFL next season and survive the cut which will see the bottom four teams being relegated.
“The management needs to support us and fund the acquisition of the players I’ve selected to make us better next year,” he said.
NBP’s next assignment will be the defence of their National Challenge Cup title.
“It would be very important for us to improve our attacking line and our defence if we are to defend our crown,” Nasir added.
In a cagey match, the NBP sustained early Army pressure as they relied on quick counter-attacks to nullify their opponents.
After a listless first-half, the match came to life in the second period as Army pressed for the lead.
The best chance that came their way was when playmaker Imran Hussain’s pile-driver from 40 yards was tipped over by NBP goalkeeper Mohammad Umer.
Army continued to press and seven minutes from time they were caught out at the back when Faisal Iqbal cleared the ball from the box onto Adnan who ran to the by-line before crossing for Farooq’s sublime effort.
Defeat for Army meant they will finish fifth regardless of the outcome of their final game of the season against league leaders Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) on Wednesday.
They have 49 points from 29 games and cannot catch fourth-placed Pakistan Air Force (PAF) who ended their campaign on 53 points.
Meanwhile, the match between the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) and Wapda has been shifted from Tuesday to Wednesday.
The match will be Wapda’s final game of the season as they look for victory against third-placed KESC to secure second spot with both teams locked on 62 points.
The KESC, however, are still in with a shout for the title. They need Army to at least draw against the KRL on Wednesday and win against Wapda to set up a title shootout with the KRL (65 points) in the season’s final game on Saturday.