by Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: Following revival of the country’s participation in international football circuit, FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee is now also set to restore the men’s domestic football activities as the PFF National Challenge Cup, featuring 27 departmental teams, kicks off at various centres of the country on Tuesday (today).
In the first phase, teams, bracketed in seven groups, will compete on home and away basis. The leading two teams from each group and the two best third-placed sides, will progress to the round of 16.
The first phase will be held at Karachi, Lahore, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Chaman, Rawalpindi and Islamabad simultaneously. The second phase, which will be knock-out, will be conducted from May 1 to 12 at a centre yet to be decided. WAPDA, who won their maiden title in 2020 by beating Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) 1-0 at Punjab Stadium, Lahore, will defend their crown.
On the opening day on Tuesday (today), here at the KPT Stadium, Navy will begin their journey with their Group A opener against Police. A formal opening ceremony has also been planned here before the game and will be graced by the Normalisation Committee chairman Haroon Malik. He will also be flanked by the NC’s members Shahid Niaz Khokhar and Saud Hashmi.
All Group A matches will be held at the KPT Stadium. Meanwhile, in Group B opener PACA will take on Nimso at Essa Football Ground, Chaman. Most of the Group B matches will be held at Ayub Stadium, Quetta.
In Group C opener on Tuesday, Railways will be pitted against Ashraf Sugar Mills (ASM) at the Gulzar Sadiq Stadium, Bahawalpur. In Group D, Masha United, owned by a South Africa-based Pakistani, will launch their journey with their clash against Klash Mills at Panthers Ground, Faisalabad. Dhanola Ground Faisalabad and Agriculture University Faisalabad are the other centres which will host the Group D matches.
In Group E opening game, holders WAPDA will meet Higher Education Commission (HEC) at Railways Stadium, Lahore. SA Garden Football Ground, Fame Football Ground and Punjab University Ground are the other venues to be used for the matches of this group.
Record six-time champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) will begin their title quest when they face Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) Wah in their Group F opener at the KRL Ground, Rawalpindi. Municipal Stadium, Army Stadium and POF Ground are the other venues to be utilised for hosting the matches of this group.
In Group G opener, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) will lock horns with WSTC at Tehmas Khan Stadium, Peshawar. PAF Ground will also be utilised for the matches of this group.
KRL’s newly-appointed coach Mohammad Essa appreciated the move to hold the event. “All players are very happy as they are getting an event after a long time,” Essa told The News.
“Format is good but the event should have been completed in a single run. The gap between the group and knock-out stage is too much and it will be financially a huge burden on the departments to hold another camp ahead of the final phase,” Essa pointed out.
Meanwhile WAPDA coach Tanvir Ahmed said his team is well-prepared. “Yes, we are well-prepared for the event which will help football a lot,” Tanvir told this correspondent.
“We had held a 25-day camp which we disbanded before we re-assembled the lot after the event was announced. All boys are fit ahead of our opener against HEC tomorrow,” said Tanvir, a former international defender.
“The format is also good as the teams will get a chance of a comeback and players will also get some recovery time. Yes, newly-formed departments may face financial issues in the long event,” Tanvir said.