by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The inaugural National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) President’s Cup began with an own goal — both literally and figuratively.
As Tariq Lutfi approached the VIP tribune of the KPT Stadium on Tuesday the organisers announced the arrival of the former national team coach, hailing his services to Pakistan football.
Despite the grand welcome, the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) coach didn’t mince his words when he labelled the tournament’s prize money a ‘disgrace’ — an inauspicious start to a football tournament in the country where the game has suffered badly in the last 18 months.
“The prize money [Rs100,000 for the winners] is an absolute disgrace,” Lutfi told Dawn later. “There is no financial incentive for the players and teams are only taking part since finally some football is taking place.”
Lutfi was joined by a number of coaches from other teams in calling for a hike in the prize money.
NBP’s head of sports Ovais Asad Khan, however, said that they were organising the tournament at a tough time for football but he vowed that there will be greater prize money on offer in the next editions of the tournament.
“We have organised the tournament on a very short notice and that was only because we wanted to do something for the game which has been suffering for a considerable time,” he told Dawn.
“But this is the inaugural edition and we can look at expanding it in the future and increasing the prize money.”
On the pitch, the first goal of the tournament came from Junaid Iqbal’s miscue which saw Karachi United fall to a 1-0 defeat to Pakistan Steel in the Group ‘A’ opener.
In the second match of the tournament, NBP opened Group ‘D’ with a 1-1 draw against Karachi Port Trust (KPT).
The 12 participating teams have been divided into four groups of three with the top two going through to the quarter-finals.
Football has come to a standstill in the country since the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) split into two factions in the lead-up to its presidential elections in June 2015.
While the coaches hailed NBP’s initiative in putting up a football show, they slammed the prize money on offer.
“This is lower than that on offer at local district tournaments,” Wapda coach Tanveer Ahmed told Dawn. “At a recent tournament at Chak-41/JB in Faisalabad, they had 30,000 for the player who scored the first goal in the final and after that was scored, they announced Rs130,000 for the player who scored the second goal.”
Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) manager Ayaz Butt echoed Tanveer’s view.
“At a local tournament in Samundri in Faisalabad about a week ago, they had Rs200,000 as prize money as well as a motorbike for the top player,” he told Dawn.
“Here, there isn’t even any match win bonus and we’ve spent a lot of money already to bring our players from Islamabad and facilitate them here. We’re only playing since there is no football going on in the country.”
K-Electric’s Akbar Ali, whose side have acquired Pakistan’s ace striker Kaleemullah for the tournament, agreed with Ayaz.
“The prize money is less than what we will be paying a single player for the tournament,” he told Dawn.
NBP, meanwhile, paid a heavy price for their profligacy in front of goal as they missed at least three clear-cut chances in the first-half before securing a point in a physical yet entertaining game against KPT.
“We were poor in front of goal,” NBP coach Nasir Ismail told Dawn after the match. “But I’m happy how my side came back strongly to level the match.”
NBP missed with two wayward headers and a wide volley from pointblank in the first half and were punished when KPT captain Zafar Majeed finished off a swift counterattack with an exquisite right-footed volley in the 55th minute.
Facing defeat, NBP pushed men forward and levelled nine minutes from time when Waseem Qadir connected with a bullet header at the far post following a floated from the left.
“We were unfortunate to concede in the dying minutes,” KPT coaches Mohammad Asif and Farid Majeed told Dawn.
“We’ve got some young players in the team and the result is encouraging for us and we look forward to securing a spot in the quarter-finals in our next match [against Police].”
Earlier, Pakistan Steel put one foot in the quarter-finals after they overcame United courtesy of Junaid’s error in judgement after he directed a cross from Ubaid Khan into his own net.
“Our next match against Wapda now becomes a must-win,” United manager Taha Alizai told Dawn. “I feel the players didn’t turn up for the match.”
While the tournament opened with qualms from the top teams over the prize money, Taha — whose team are in the second division, hailed NBP’s initiative to hold the tournament.
“At least there is some footballing activity,” he said. “This at least keeps football alive in the country.”