by Faizan Lakhani
KARACHI: Lahore’s ICAW emerged victorious from Leisure Leagues National Seven-a-side Football Championship final after beating Peshawar’s Shinwari Football Club here at Baloch Mujahid Stadium.
The team claimed priced berth to represent Pakistan in International Socca Federation (ISF) World Cup to be held in Portugal in October this year.
“The challenge has actually now started for us. We were representing Lahore as well as Punjab in National Championship but now the responsibility is much bigger in significance since we will now be representing Pakistan in a Six-a-side World Cup inaugural event,” said a delighted ICAW skipper Afaq Ahmed.
The players of all teams put their best in the tournament as the event provided a chance to the winners to secure a place in ISF World Cup, which is scheduled to be held in Portugal’s coastal and hilly capital city Lisbon this year from October 5.
The final match saw a highly competitive game from both teams and the regulation time ended in a 0-0 draw. In penalty kicks, ICAW emerged victorious with a 3-2 win. Umer Javed, who scored decisive goal in semifinal, Captain Afaq Ahmed and Haider Ali converted their penalty kicks successfully. Alamgir and Siraj converted for Shinwari FC.
“This had been a huge event for us. I received a call from my father, who was delighted to see me receive winner trophy from former Pakistan Prime Minister and also former President Mohammad Mian Soomro on TV. This has been a great event not only for us but for Pakistan football as well,” Ahmed added.
The ICAW skipper added that the service Leisure Leagues rendering to football in the country has been exceptional.
“What else one can do for football than to send a team from Pakistan to an international tournament. We have never been in a football World Cup. Although it’s not a main football World Cup but to us it will be of much bigger importance and we are hoping that the nation would be supporting us to claim title for the country,” he added.
He further said that he and his team have been Leisure Leagues fan since it brought Gaucho Ronaldinho to Pakistan last year. “Half of Pakistan football fans are fans of Ronaldinho including me. Since Leisure Leagues brought our idol to Pakistan, we are Leisure Leagues fans.”
ICAW team consists of Afaq Ahmed, Umer Javed, Haider Ali, Muhammad Waleed, Abdul Hanan Javed, Saad Ali Khan, Zaid Mehmood, Aamir Iqbal Gondal and Zabiullah Warraich.
Ahmed praised all of his teammates for putting impressive performances in the tournament which was the reason the team won the title. “We are happy that we did what we wanted and justified our team’s name ICAW, which is an abbreviation of ‘I Can and Will’.”
Among guests of honour were Sindh Sports Minister Junaid Ali Shah, former MNA Farooq Sattar, CEO World Group Anas Trunkwala, MD World Group Munir Trunkwala and Leisure Leagues COO Ishaq Shah were also present during the closing ceremony.
“This is a very good event and such events help promote sports in the country, which is very good for the country’s youth as it keeps them engage in healthy activities. I congratulate Lahore for winning the national title,” Dr Junaid Ali Shah said.
“All of the teams performed well in the tournament and I must congratulate them all. And I wish Lahore’s ICAW best of luck for the ISF World Cup. I hope they perform well there as well,” Munir Trunkwala said.
“We will continue to hold events such as this national championship in future as well with an inspiration to serve the country. I congratulate ICAW and best of luck to them for the World Cup,” Anas Trunkwala said.
Ishaq Shah also hoped that ICAW performs well when they compete in World Cup in Portugal and win laurels for the country.
Earlier in semifinals, Peshawar’s Shinwari Football Club overpowered Karachi’s Khyber Muslim while Lahore’s ICAW defeated Quetta’s Sherof Football Club to qualify for the summit clash.
All the eight teams, which qualified for the national championship, were champions of their respective cities either in Leisure Leagues Intra-City events or Leisure Leagues seasons.
Earlier in group stage, Shaheed Football Club of Qila Saif Ullah; Red Devils from Islamabad; Shaikhi Seven FC from Mardan; FC Thunderbolt from Hyderabad were eliminated from the tournament.
The eight teams were equally divided into two groups – Group ‘A’ and Group ‘B’. Group ‘A’ consisted of teams from Karachi, Quetta, Hyderabad and Mardan. Meanwhile, Group ‘B’ consisted of teams from Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad and Qila Saifullah. Each team played three matches in the group stage.
Hyderabad’s FC Thunderbolt clinched ‘Fair Play’ award. ‘Best Goalkeeper’ award went to Quetta’s Sherof FC player Mohammad Bilal. ICAW’s Aamir Gondal won the coveted ‘Best Player’ award. Sherof FC player Kashif was the ‘Top Scorer’ of tournament.