By Alam Zeb Safi – The News on Sunday
Pakistan Air Force (PAF) became the new champions of the National Football Challenge Cup after beating K-Electric 3-1 in extra time in the final here at the KPT Stadium last week.
This was the fourth consecutive time when K-Electric failed to win the final. And they would be very disappointed because they also had the support of their Nigerian striker Oludeyi Abayomi Sunday who had been requested to stay after the Premier League specifically for the 12-team event.
Oludeyi, who left for Nigeria on the very next day after the final, was declared the best player of the event. He played an instrumental role in K-Electric’s victories in the competitions. He proved himself to be a skilled player with so many qualities and was the darling of the crowd, particularly for his approach to the game.
K-Electric were harmed by the absence of their unfit defenders Akbar and Wali Khan in the final.
PAF looked a very organised side, for which the credit goes to their coaches Shehzad Anwar and former international Mohammad Arshad. The two worked hard and kept their boys motivated throughout.
They were beaten by Habib Bank Limited (HBL) 3-2 in their last game of the group stage, but by then they had already made it to the quarter-finals. Their front-runners international Mohammad Mujahid, Arif Nawaz, Mohammad Sher and highly talented young striker Mansoor Khan played important roles in their team’s success.
Mansoor had not been impressive till the semi-finals, but he compensated for his bad performance by showing class game in the final.“The way Mansoor plays, I can say he will become a star of Pakistan in the time to come,” former Pakistan coach Tariq Lutfi told ‘The News on Sunday’.
Four-time champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) seemed to be a shadow of their true self in the absence of their star striker Kaleemullah and left-winger Mohammad Adil, who are playing for Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi Bishkek on loan.
Their skipper Samar Ishaq and international gloveman Saqib Hanif were also absent due to fitness problems. They failed to move beyond the quarter-finals, a performance which put their management in a fix ahead of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup first round, which will be held in Sri Lanka from May 7-11.
They have inducted three youngsters in their squad and are trying to rope in another, but it will not be an easy job for them to repeat their last year’s performance in the President’s Cup in the absence of their two stars. In the last edition of the President’s Cup, in Kuala Lumpur, KRL ended as the runners-up, a great achievement. They went 0-1 down to Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC in a tense finale.
HBL, who ended third after beating KPT in the play-off for the third place in penalty shootout, proved that they did not deserve relegation from the Premier League.
HBL were among the six teams which were demoted to the second-tier league last season. It was not a good decision from Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to relegate half a dozen outfits from its prime league in one go.
What helped HBL pull off an improved performance in the NFCC was the induction of three new players, Saeed Ahmed and Mohammad Hameed (both from KRL), and Asmatullah (from Muslim FC).
The PFF should reconsider the relegation case of at least HBL and Navy. Navy, too, looked impressive as they held KRL in their first group match. They failed to move beyond the group stage when they were beaten by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in their last league game.
Four-time Premier League winners WAPDA and the depleted National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) also fell in the quarter-finals. NBP did not play like defending champions, but they were unlucky as well because two of their key players, Farooq Shah and Faisal Iqbal, fractured their legs in the group stage.
The injury may also put Faisal out of Pakistan’s tour to Palestine next month where they will feature in the Al-Nakba Invitational International tournament.
Police, Higher Education Commission (HEC) and Pak Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA) were the other outfits that took part in the slots.
Police, who had recruited 30 new players just ahead of the Challenge Cup, looked energised and beat HBL in their group stage before going down against PAF in their last game. They had three points like their group opponents HBL and PAF, but failed to move into quarters due to low goal-average.
It was a successful event that attracted good crowds, but it could have been more effective had it been conducted at one venue.
The event, which has been organised for the last seven years, needs further improvement. In future the PFF should come up with a solid format. This time, 12 teams were put in four groups of three teams each. Mostly a team that won their first game advanced to quarter-finals, which turned their last group matches less important.
Had 12 teams been put in two groups with the leading two advancing into semi-finals, the tournament could have been more interesting.
The PFF should also in future ensure that best match officials conduct the operations. Match officials made a serious blunder when, after HBL beat PAF in their last group game, they opted for penalties to decide the group winners.
After both HBL and PAF ended with equal points and goal-average, HBL should have been declared group winners because they had beaten PAF in the group stage. If the match commissioner and the referee had any doubt they should have consulted their senior colleagues before taking both the teams into the penalty shootout.
Moreover, a tournament’s value is determined with the prize money it carries. The winners were handed over only Rs250,000, which is too meagre an amount.
“That is why we were not interested in the tournament,” a team official said.
The federation should also introduce crystal trophies instead of the old traditional silver ones for the tournament in future.
The representative of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Hussain Askari of Iran assessed the performance of the Nushki-based referee Hidayatullah during the event. This was Hidayatullah’s second assessment. If he succeeds he will be put on the AFC elite panel and will be eligible to supervise international games in the continent.
Young goalkeepers Ahsanullah of HBL and Ghazanfar Yasin of PAF were highly impressive as both played key role in their teams’ fine performances.
Like Ahsanullah, Ghazanfar should also be groomed with the national team.
The NBP was the only sponsor of the tournament, which creates doubt about the ability of the PFF marketing wing. PFF’s Consultant Marketing and Event Management Naved Haider should focus on bringing money for such tournaments instead of acting as PFF’s spokesman.
It is high time for the PFF to establish full-fledged marketing and media wings, the two vital faculties which are badly missing.
In the end, I would like to suggest that the Challenge Cup should not be limited to Karachi and Punjab. It should also be held in Peshawar and Balochistan in future so that football could be kept alive there.