KARACHI: The hard work and proper training ahead of the event eventually paid dividends as Army reclaimed the crown when they recovered from 0-2 down to overwhelm Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) 3-2 thanks to skipper Ansar Abbas’ double in a pulsating final of the National Football Challenge Cup at Tehmas Khan Stadium Peshawar late Sunday night.
In front of a jam-paced venue, Army showed that they were the best unit when they made a remarkable comeback to annex their third title. Army previously had lifted the crowns in 2000 and 2001.
In the fast-paced show, international Saadullah put SSGC ahead in the 32nd minute when he was smartly assisted by skipper Saddam Hussain. At half time, SSGC were leading 1-0. SSGC kept up their superb ground work and doubled their lead through Mohammad Tahir in the 51st minute.
However, Army staged a solid comeback, striking three goals inside ten minutes. Skipper Ansar Abbas reduced the deficit in the 67th minute before he struck again in the 75th minute to make it 2-2. Only a minute later, Ali Raza slotted home the winner to pull off a sensational win.
Army’s senior official Jaffar Khan said it was a superb game. “It was a class game,” Jaffar told ‘The News’. “After we conceded a couple of goals due to defence blunders we knew that we could stage a fightback as our team was playing really well,” said Jaffar, who served as goalkeeping coach.
“We were unfortunate when our two drives crashed the poles before we conceded the first goal,” he said. “After half time, we made a subtle change by sending Ansar Abbas to the frontline and placed a young midfielder in his place. And Ansar changed the complexion of the game with a double,” the former Pakistan captain said.
He said it was because of proper preparation and combination that they had won. “In June, Uzbekistan’s army team visited Pakistan. We played a series against them which we won. After that we did not break the camp. Moreover, we had a solid blend of young and experienced stuff which had gelled well,” said the former Army captain.
SSGC coach Tariq Lutfi said losing two defenders hurt their cause. “Before the match our key defender Mengal started warming up. After a few minutes he told us that he was feeling deep pain in his leg. After 20 minutes play our stopper Naveed received a head injury and that added to our misery,” Tariq told this correspondent.
“We were playing Saddam Hussain upfront. When Naveed got injured we had to bring Saddam to the back-line. That left the up-front truncated,” Tariq said.
However, he was quick to add that still they played a tight game. “Despite all trouble we took 2-0 lead. It was in the end that Army put pressure on us. Army seemed a superb unit after a long time. It is always difficult to play better against a tough side in the last 20 minutes,” said Tariq, also a former Pakistan coach.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister Atif Khan graced the closing ceremony. Also present were PFF chief Ashfaq Hussain, MNA Amir Dogar, and KP Football Association president Syed Zahir Shah.
The Nation adds (with corrections):
It was the third time that Army won the National Challenge Cup earlier it won the same in 2000 and 2001. KRL won the title for six times in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016, ABL won it four times in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2002, Crescent Textiles Mills won it in 1987 and 1992, PAF won twice in 1994 and 2018, HBL in 1985, KPT in 1987, Marker Club in 1991, Pakistan Navy in 2008, PIA in 1984 and Sindh Press in 1979 won it for once.
Earlier, the chief guest gave away trophies and winners cash prize of Rs 500,000, runners-up got trophy and Rs 300,000, third position won by KRL after defeating Wapda 1-0 and earned Rs 200,000 and trophy.
Ahmad of Army was declared best goalkeeper and was awarded 25000 cash prize, followed by Saad Ullah of SSGC was declared as best player with Rs 30,000, Muhammad Waheed of Wapda got highest goal scoring prize of Rs 20,000 while the fair-play trophy was won by PAF with cash prize of Rs 50,000. The players were also awarded gold, silver and bronze medals at the end.