Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Sher Ali scored twice as National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) began their National Challenge Cup title defence in style with a 3-1 victory over Higher Education Commission (HEC) here on Tuesday while last year’s finalists K-Electric also won.
Sher Ali scored a first-half brace, his second from the penalty spot, at the KPT Stadium with Adnan Mazhar scoring NBP’s third five minutes after HEC had pulled one back through Noman Khan in the 76th minute in their Group ‘C’ opener.
NBP’s victory, though, was tempered by a back injury to influential midfielder Faisal Iqbal.
“He’s going for a scan on his back right now and I hope it isn’t serious,” NBP head coach Nasir Ismail told Dawn after the match.
At the KMC Stadium, Mohammad Rasool scored in each half as K-Electric opened their Group ‘B’ campaign with a 5-2 rout of Pak-Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA).
Goals by Nigerian striker Oludeyi Abayomi Sunday, Rasool, Abdul Rehman and Umer Farooq had put K-Electric 5-0 up by the 84th minute before PACA scored twice in the last four minutes.
“It was a good win for us as our strikers fired on all cylinders,” K-Electric captain Mohammad Essa told Dawn after the match. “We’ve been losing finalists for the last three years so we want to win it this time around.”
NBP, whose Challenge Cup victory last year was their first major honour in 20 years, took the lead against HEC in the 14th minute when Sher Mohammad crossed from the right and Sher Ali dived in to score with a volley.
HEC came close to equalising in the 20th minute when Umair Ali’s sublime free-kick required a stunning fingertip save by NBP goalkeeper Mohammad Umar.
NBP, though, were 2-0 up eight minutes before half-time.
HEC goalkeeper Waqas Rashid brought down veteran striker Farooq Shah inside the box to give away a needless penalty.
Sher Ali had to take the penalty twice after his first one was ruled out by the referee for an illegal infringement inside the box.
On his second attempt, Waqas superbly dove to his right to push the ball onto the post but Sher Ali reacted quickly to net in the rebound.
HEC showed great character and came back strongly in the second-half, putting some sustained pressure on NBP and were rewarded 14 minutes from time when Noman scored with a crisp volley.
However, any chances of a comeback by HEC were quickly snuffed out when Adnan rounded off a superb passing move by smartly placing the ball past Waqas.
“It was a good performance for the boys even though there were some tactical errors,” Nasir said. “The victory sets us up nicely for the game against Wapda [on Saturday].”
With the 12 participating teams divided into four groups of three, both Wapda and NBP can progress to the quarter-finals on Wednesday if the former beat HEC in their Group ‘C’ opener.
K-Electric also took a giant step towards the last-eight with a convincing win over PACA.
Sunday opened the scoring in the 10th before Rasool scored a brace with his goals coming in the 25th and 57th with Abdul Rehman making it 4-0 ten minutes later.
Umer then scored K-Electric’s fifth before Abdul Salam and Rehmatullah replied for PACA, whose final game of the group stage is against Karachi Port Trust (KPT) on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) face Pakistan Navy in their opening game of Group ‘A’ while Pakistan Air Force (PAF) get Group ‘D’ rolling when they face Pakistan Police.
Wednesday’s fixtures (both kick-offs 4:15pm PST): Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) v Pakistan Navy (Group ‘A’, KPT Stadium); Pakistan Air Force (PAF) v Pakistan Police (Group ‘D’, KMC Stadium).