Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Rizwan Asif scored a second-half equaliser to spare Khan Research Laboratories’ (KRL) blushes as the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions opened their NBP Challenge Cup campaign with a 1-1 draw against 10-man Pakistan Navy here on Wednesday.
Rizwan slotted home a rebound from the edge of the area in the 63rd minute after Navy had taken the lead moments before the half-hour mark through Asif Bux’s penalty in the Group ‘A’ clash at the KPT Stadium.
“It was our first game after the PPFL season so of course we were a little disjointed,” Rizwan told Dawn after the match.
“I’m happy that I scored for the team when it mattered most but at the same time, I had two good chances to win the game and I missed. I could’ve had a hat-trick.”
In Wednesday’s other match at the KMC Stadium, Mohammad Mujahid scored a brace as Pakistan Air Force (PAF) got Group ‘D’ of the country’s premier cup event rolling with a 2-1 victory over Pakistan Police.
Mujahid scored in the 51st and the 77th minutes, showing his predatory instincts inside the box with clinical strikes to put PAF in command.
Himmat replied for Police in the 85th to make the last five minutes interesting but PAF held on to secure victory which all but seals their passage to the quarter-finals.
Anything less than a victory for Police against Habib Bank Limited (HBL) in their next Group ‘D’ match on Friday would send Shahzad Anwar’s PAF through to the last-eight.
“In the last edition [in Bahawalpur], we finished third,” Shahzad told Dawn. “This time around we want to do better and at least reach the final although our quarter-final tie promises to be tricky as we would be drawing a team from Group ‘A’.”
Group ‘A’ seems evenly-poised after Wednesday’s draw.
Navy face Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) on Friday and a victory there would see the seamen through and it would come down to the final Group fixture on Sunday between PIA and KRL to decide which team joins them in the last-eight.
In their first competitive game since the departures of star striker Kalemullah and ace winger Mohammad Adil to Kyrgyz giants FC Dordoi, KRL looked a shadow of the imposing team that cruised to their third successive PPFL title in February.
“Their departures have affected the team,” KRL captain Kamran Khan, whose foul on Navy’s Fazal Mohammad gave away the penalty, told Dawn.
“We were so used to playing with Adil and Kaleem and now we’ve to rebuild the team which will take time before we get back to our usual efficiency.”
Kamran gave away the penalty when he pulled down Fazal inside the box.
“It was a harsh decision as I couldn’t see him running past me and the ball was already out of his reach,” he said.
Nonetheless, Asif kept his composure and struck it sweetly in the top corner to give Navy the lead in the 29th.
KRL had their chances to level the scores in the first-half with Mehmood Khan seeing his shot saved off the line.
The equaliser, however, came when a loose ball fortuitously bounced to Rizwan and he lashed a first time shot which gave Navy goalkeeper Shehroz no chance.
Navy went down to ten men when captain Mohammad Ramazan was sent off for a second yellow card in the 83rd but despite playing with a man advantage, the winner proved elusive for KRL.
Navy’s assistant coach Nasir was proud of his side’s performance.
“We played a great game and managed to get a point against a big team like KRL,” Nasir, whose side were relegated from the PPFL last season, told Dawn. “This result boosts our chances of progressing to the quarters.”
Thursday’s fixtures (both kick-offs at 4:15pm PST): KPT v PACA (Group ‘B’, KPT Stadium); Wapda v HEC (Group ‘C’, KMC Stadium).