by Mir Shabbar Ali
KARACHI: It was a difficult day for the referees who came under immense criticism as Wapda and NBP proceeded to the quarter-finals of the NBP President’s Cup here at the KPT Football Stadium on Saturday.
Wapda, with a 2-0 win finished second in Group ‘A’ with Karachi United above them. Pakistan Navy, who lost both their group matches, stayed third.
Wapda needed to win by a two-goal margin and the group was eventually decided on goal difference.
NBP topped Group ‘B’ after they thrashed Pakistan Police 4-2 which confirmed the losers’ ouster from the tournament. Karachi Port Trust (KPT) whose fate depended on Saturday’s match finished as the second best team in the group while Pakistan Steel were eliminated.
During the day’s first match, the Steel camp was seen voicing their concerns aggressively from the technical area as referee Shaukat turned down their appeal for hand-ball by a Wapda player in the 40th minute. Several offside decisions by the linesman also seemed doubtful to the Steel management.
“We have gone out of the way financially to take part in this tournament; but this standard of refereeing has potentially taken away from us a chance to revitalise our struggling department,” Pakistan Steel manager Tariq Taj told Dawn.
In the second match, Pakistan Police’s Sher Hassan was sent off for using ‘abusive language’ after a heated exchange with the referee followed by a walkout in protest by the losing side just before the end of the first half.
“The standard of refereeing in Pakistan is below average. We as organisers still try our best to not let these mistakes happen,” explained Qamar Qureshi, an organiser. “The losing sides fail to understand this and complain,” he added.
It was a must-win game for Wapda against Steel after they lost to second-division side Karachi United on Thursday.
The four-time Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions hence rose to the occasion and achieved exactly what they needed — a two-goal advantage in the match — to qualify for the quarter-finals courtesy goals from Jadeed Khan and former Pakistan striker Arif Mahmood.
“We took Karachi United lightly in our previous match but today we concentrated better and got the result we needed,” said Wapda’s assistant coach Tanveer Ahmed.
“We looked to stretch the match and wait for the goals instead of attacking from the start, the mistake we made against United,” he underlined.
NBP drove past Pakistan Police ruthlessly as winger Maqbool scored a brace for them in a blistering display. Mohammad Zeeshan and Javaid Hamza were the other two goal-scorers for the young side managed by Nasir Ismail.
“We are going through a difficult time as most of our first-choice players are injured but I have my confidence in the younger lot,” Ismail said.
“I believe these youngsters can trouble stronger sides like KRL and SSGC in the upcoming knockout matches,” added the former Pakistan assistant coach.
Wapda, who did not pose much of a goal threat against Steel in the first half, introduced young Waqas Ihtesham to bolster the attack just at the start of the second and looked a different side altogether after that.
“The coach sent me in with the mission to win headers and create chances for the other forwards,” said Ihtesham, who normally plays as defender for his side.
Wapda scored their first in the 52nd minute when Jadeed Khan lashed onto the loose clearance by a Steel defender following a corner and tapped it in past the goalkeeper.
Ihtesham switched the ball from right to left to find Mohammad Bilal who cut back and laid off the ball for seasoned Arif who comfortably placed it in the net at the 82nd minute.
NBP’s Maqbool was a menace at the left for the Police defenders who could not do much about his pace and trickery.
The winger hit the post with a bullet-like shot which rebounded for Javaid Hamza to score from close range at the 27th.
In the 31st, Maqbool finished a fluid counter-attack which was expertly built from the right. Javaid Hamza scored the third for NBP at the 47th minute mark while Maqbool scored his second at the 74th.
Police were awarded a penalty in the 72nd minute which was taken by Noor Mohammad who beat NBP goalkeeper Mohammad Umer to place the ball in the bottom right corner.
Waqas dribbled past two defenders after receiving the ball in the box and showed great composure as he scored Police’s second in the 80th minute.
Earlier, in the 26th minute, Police came close to scoring but were denied by Umer who displayed jaw-dropping reflexes to make a double save.
On Sunday, Karachi Electric take on SNGPL while Sui Southern Gas Company lock horns with Khan Research Laboratories in an emotional outing for SSGC coach Tariq Lutfi who lead KRL to three successive PPFL titles during his stint with them.