by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: It was only appropriate that Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) didn’t end up winning the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL). It seemed justice prevailed after all. And what better than justice prevailing on the football pitch?
Needing victory against Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in the final league match of the season here at the KPT Stadium on Sunday to pip both their opponents and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to the title, SSGC were schooled 4-0 by KRL, who ended up winning the PPFL for a record fifth time.
Just that KRL’s title triumph wouldn’t be recognised by world’s football governing body FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Unlike in their previous title wins, KRL wouldn’t be able to take part in AFC competitions as champions of Pakistan.
That had already been decided earlier, in November when Dawn revealed that there was no slot for the Pakistan champions in the coming season of the AFC Cup —Asia’s second-tier club competition — since there was no team that fulfilled AFC’s club-licensing criteria.
Since then, the league’s organisation has changed hands, going from the FIFA-recognised Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) of Faisal Saleh Hayat to the one not recognised by the global football body, led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah who was elected PFF president in an election ordered by the Supreme Court last month.
Barring any change to their current stance, Dawn understands, FIFA wouldn’t recognise KRL as the Pakistan champions. The Hayat group ended the league, making final payments and forcing the referees’ association to boycott the remaining matches, when it relinquished control of its headquarters to the Ashfaq-led body at the turn of this year.
Nevertheless, when the curtain fell on the latest edition of the PPFL — the first in three years due to off-the-pitch turmoil in the PFF — there was a sense that some of the wrongs of the former officials had been rectified.
Umer Zia, PFF’s competitions manager, who worked with the former regime before being sacked and then returning to his post when the new officials were elected, was in his post when four teams including SSGC were controversially promoted via a one-match promotion playoff at the start of the season. It was a contravention of FIFA and AFC statutes regarding promotion and relegation of teams.
Over the last two days, Umer has been claiming that the manner of promotion was wrong and he and PFF director competitions Sajjad Mehmood, who was sacked at the same time as Umer, were powerless to do anything.
Sajjad’s presence in the PFF role was also a conflict of interest since he is also KRL’s head-coach yet the Hayat faction let him stay until of course differences developed and he was forced to resign.
Adding to the controversy, one of the promoted teams Ashraf Sugar Mills (ASM) left the league midway citing the expenses of playing in the country’s top-tier were too much.
SSGC coach Tariq Lutfi, in the meantime, had claimed his move of appealing for his team to be given a chance in the top-tier was due to the quality of the squad he had under him.
With football virtually suspended in the country due to a legal battle in the PFF since 2015, SSGC capitalised by signing top Pakistan national team players. Once Hayat was restored as PFF chief in March 2018, after a six-month ban by FIFA for third-party interference, the international players feared playing in the second division.
It was then Lutfi who pushed for his team to be included in the first-division, citing football had already suffered in the previous years. It was then the PFF decided to promote four teams via a single-match playoff, foregoing the second-division Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL).
“They should’ve played the PFFL first before starting with the PPFL,” Umer told Dawn on Sunday, reflecting on what should’ve been.
Holding the PFFL is on the PFF’s agenda for now. But they’re facing a paucity of funding with the Hayat group leaving them with no money in the PFF coffers.
Ashfaq’s group claim that the Hayat faction illegally returned the funding from FIFA and AFC, disobeying the orders of the Supreme Court which had asked the Hayat group to give every detail of their financial transactions when it ordered fresh elections and put him back in office.
Hayat’s group was reminded it will have to give an account for their finances by Federal Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) Fehmida Mirza on Sunday.
“We will look into the financial malpractices in the PFF and other sports federations,” Fehmida, whose role as IPC minister also means she has to look after the affairs of the country’s sports sector, told reporters at the PPFL closing ceremony where she was the chief guest.
She also took a jibe at Hayat when asked that the country risked suspension for FIFA, which last month said that the Supreme Court-ordered election of the PFF was tantamount to “third-party interference”.
“He’s been in power since 2003 and look where we are as a football nation,” she said. “Our football needs to grow by leaps and bounds and hopefully the newly-elected officials standing with me here will ensure that and put the game on the right path.”
Some of the wrongs had been done right moments earlier when in front of a packed house KRL ensured a team that had been controversially-promoted didn’t take the title.
KRL needed to win by four goals to clinch the title ahead of PAF and they did exactly that. SSGC couldn’t get the win they needed.
Now, with a controversy-marred season behind them, the Ashfaq-led PFF needs to revamp the domestic game. The wrongs of the past have to be done right.
The News’ Alam Zeb Safi adds
KARACHI: Top fitness level eventually yielded a result when Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) proved everyone wrong to crush strong Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) 4-0 to clinch their record fifth title as the 12th Pakistan Premier Football League concluded here at KPT Stadium on Sunday.
KRL needed a win by a margin of four goals to win the league. And they did that thanks to a double from Izharullah and one goal apiece by Iftikhar and Junaid.
Both KRL and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) finished the season with 51 points each. They were also tied on goal average which was 40. But KRL had conceded 12 goals, one less than PAF.
KRL had previously won the league in 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14. WAPDA have four crowns to their credit which they claimed in 2004-05, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2010-11 season.
The last league game, which had acquired the status of a final, turned out to be a one-sided affair due to horrible performance from SSGC’s defence.
KRL began the game at a fast pace and soon went ahead when Iftikhar hit a solid goal in the tenth minute. KRL kept the pressure up and in the 20th minute doubled their lead when Izharullah sneaked past SSGC’s defence before nudging the ball into the far post past the diving SSGC gloveman.
Six minutes later, Junaid added to the misery of SSGC when his pile-driver from inside the area went into the cage. At half time, KRL were leading 3-0. Six minutes into the second half, Izharullah completed his brace through a brilliant header which gave the Rawalpindi-based side the title.
“It’s unbelievable,” the ecstatic KRL coach Sajjad Mehmood told ‘The News’ after his team’s magical win.“I had told my boys that they must score a goal in the first ten minutes. They did that which put pressure on the opponents. We kept pressing them through counter-attacks that created rooms which were converted,” said Sajjad, who has proved a lucky coach for KRL.
KRL manager Ayaz Butt, who was not present with his team because of his daughter’s wedding ceremony in Islamabad, was extremely happy with his outfit’s remarkable victory.“It’s indeed a miracle as SSGC are a strong team and its coach Tariq Lutfi is a shrewd person,” Ayaz Butt told ‘The News’ from Islamabad.
“It wasn’t easy to come to this level and press for the title because some of our key players left us before the season began. And we needed to win by a margin of at least four goals to win the league,” Butt said.
“The credit goes to our management and KRL chairman Tahir Ikram, who has been helpful in enhancing the packages of the players. Today you can see that our players get handsome salaries of Rs80,000 to Rs85,000,” Butt said.
“This is our fifth title. We will keep winning titles. But I would request the top football authorities to settle their dispute so that our team could get international exposure. If you don’t give international exposure to the players it will also go against Pakistan team’s interest,” the official said.
Butt said that his boys were in top physical shape that paid dividends. “We kept our boys fit during the entire season. You will not see any hamstring problem to any player and today they showed their class,” Butt said.
SSGC coach Tariq Lutfi blamed his defence for the defeat. “Our defence flopped today,” Tariq said.
SSGC, having the services of several Pakistan players, had risen to the top-tier league through controversial qualifiers introduced by the FIFA-recognised Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
SSGC, with 50 points, finished third.
PAF’s assistant manager Mohammad Arshad was shocked by his team’s losing a great opportunity of kissing their maiden title. “I am really disappointed as we had 80 percent chance of winning the title. But it’s part of the game. KRL needed four goals and they scored those,” Arshad said.
Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) Dr Fehmida Mirza distributed the prizes.The winners KRL were handed over Rs1.2 million with the runners-up PAF going away with Rs900,000 and SSGC taking Rs600,000.
Besides, Rs120,000 each was handed over to Tanvir Mumtaz (best goalie, KRL), Mohammad Naeem (best player, 13 goals, two hat-tricks, PCAA) and Ansar Abbas (Army, leading scorer, 15 goals).
Since Pakistan has been denied an AFC Cup slot this time by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) because of club licensing issue, the new champions KRL will not be able to appear in the event in 2019.
The league remained legal until it was handled by FIFA-recognised Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). FIFA and AFC will not recognise any football activity in Pakistan held after December 31, 2018, the day on which the newly-elected PFF got control of the PFF headquarters and accounts from FIFA-recognised PFF.