Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
KARACHI: Pakistan emerged as the new favourites in the 2014 Street Child World Cup as they reached the semi-finals after defeating the Philippines 3-2 on penalty kicks in Maracana.
The team remains unbeaten in the seven-a-side tournament so far. According to Azad Foundation official Itfan Maqbool, who is with the team in Rio de Janeiro, the players showed graced during the quarter-final and played bravely against their opponents.
Pakistan’s Mushtaq Mehr scored the equaliser in the match to tie it 1-1 at full-time, while an outstanding performance by captain and goal-keeper Sameer Ahmed, during the penalty shootout, won the match for Pakistan.
He blocked penalties from Philippines while scoring one for his own team, as key strikers Abdul Raziq and Aurangzeb Baba also successfully put the ball in the net.
“Our players cried and fell to the ground to thank God,” Maqbool told The Express Tribune. “The match was nerve-wracking. These players just became the first Pakistanis to play in Brazil and progress to the semi-finals on their debut.”
Maqbool added that the team had exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“We had never expected this performance from them, but our team just proved its worth by winning yet another match,” said Maqbool. “Coming back into the game after conceding a goal and then winning it on penalty kicks was a surreal experience. The players took a while to acknowledge the proud moment before taking the victory round.”
Pakistan have had a glorious run in the tournament — they cruised into the quarter-finals after topping Group Three, which also featured the US, India, Kenya and Mauritius.
“These children have made history and showed that Pakistan has talent in football by progressing to this stage. Even hosts Brazil lost their match to the US 6-2.”
The official added that people from other countries were supporting the team as well.
“Pakistan are the new favourites now,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2014.