LAHORE: Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) held their nerve in a shootout to set up a Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Cup title showdown against National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) who prevailed by a lone goal in their semi-final on Saturday.
KRL overcame Pakistan Air Force (PAF) 4-3 on penalties after their last-four clash ended goalless at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore before NBP rode on an early goal by Mohammad Maqbool to scrape past Pakistan Army 1-0.
“It will be an exciting final,” NBP head coach Nasir Ismail told Dawn after their semi-final. “KRL of course go into the final as favourites but we won’t go down without a fight.”
Nasir added his side can learn from PAF who held four-time Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions KRL for 120 minutes.
“PAF kept them at bay so our players can draw inspiration from that and make it a close game,” said Nasir, whose side historically have produced their best performances against the top teams of the country.
KRL manager Ayaz Butt noted his team’s failure to end the game in normal time was due to the fact that they had just a day’s rest following their 3-1 semi-final win over Wapda.
“We had a high intensity game against Wapda,” Ayaz told Dawn after the semi-final. “Of course the players were tired but they still did well but we will work on our game in the final third [of the pitch].”
Like Nasir, Ayaz expected Monday’s final to be a close one and hailed his players for keeping their cool in a tense shootout.
KRL and PAF largely neutralised each other with clear-cut chances few and far between.
The shootout was tied at 3-3 with Mutuza Hussain, Zia-us-Salam and Mohammad Shahid scoring for KRL and Arif Nawaz, Mohammad Zeeshan and Mohammad Sohail netting their spot-kicks.
Both Mohammad Qasim and Mansoor Khan then missed their penalties and after Yasir Afridi scored, KRL goalkeeper Saqib Hanif saved superbly from PAF counterpart Ghazanfar Yasin to send his side into the final.
“It was a crucial save and we need Saqib to be on top his game for the final because NBP are good on quick counterattacks,” Ayaz said.
In a fast start in the second semi-final, Maqbool scored off a rapid NBP attack even though Army’s goalkeeper could’ve done better with his tame shot.
NBP Mohammad Omar then held firm as NBP’s tight man-marking foiled Army in a tactical masterclass by Nasir. “The aim was to not give Army any room,” Nasir said. “And the player played superbly to the plan.”
Army will face PAF in the third-place playoff on Sunday (21 February) at 2 PM.