FPDC Preview: National Football Challenge Cup ’11, Faisalabad

By FPDC Editor, Gauhar Mahmood Azeem

The magic of cup football can see epic David beat Goliath battles. Minnows in 90 minutes can upset giants. A champion effort from one athlete can earn him glory over a more consistent adversary. This is the beauty associated with knock-out football that will be on show as the 21st NBP National Football Challenge Cup ’11 kicks off from the 14th of April, at the Manchester of Pakistan i.e. Faisalabad.

The Pakistani version of the famous English FA Cup through the 14th to the 27th of April will see the 15 top department football sides and the host team PMC Athletico Club Faisalabad fighting it out for the 2nd most coveted trophy in Pakistani football.

And the venue is perfect for this showpiece event. Known as the long-ball capital of Pakistan, Faisalabad has produced top footballers for the National team throughout history. The current captain of the National side, Samar Ishaq, hailing from the city is a testament. Faisalabad also houses the PMC Athletico club side that is one of if not the top football club in Pakistan. The club president, Rai Saif Ur Rehman Bhatti, is a diehard football promoter and fan. On getting hosting rights of the event he expressed his joy and exclaimed, ‘’the Challenge Cup is coming home.’’.

The format for this year’s cup is a sees the inclusion of a first round group stage. The 16 teams will be grouped in 4 groups of 4 teams with the top two qualifying to the Quater-Finals. The knock-out stages will be held at Faisalabad’s Iqbal Stadium. It is ironic how while cricket leaves the venue empty, football looks to get it full and to serve its purpose.

The sides taking part this year are defending Champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), National Champions WAPDA, Pakistan ARMY, NBP, KPT, PIA, Pakistan NAVY, KESC, HBL, PTV, PAF, Pakistan Police, Pakistan Railways, ZTBL, Ashraf Sugar Mills and PMC Athletico.

Favourites for this year’s title are definitely the impressive KRL side. Champions in the last two editions, the now Tariq Lutfi boys will look to make this a hat-trick of titles. The feat will be made easier as National Champions WAPDA are focusing on the AFC President’s Cup later this month and will only send their Multan region (MEPCO) side for this competition.

Eyes will also be on competitive sides representing Army, Navy, PAF and KESC who will be hoping to pull a surprise come the NFCC. Eyes will specially be on KESC who many believe have under-achieved in the PPL this season even though they had the services of ex-international skipper Muhammad Essa, striker Muhammad Rasool, goalkeeper Muhammad Omer and the young Muhammad Riaz Ahmed in their ranks. Zabe Khan (Director Football, KESC) needs to ensure the side realizes it’s potential under renowned coach Hassan Baloch.

One side who will be an unknown quantity coming up into this tournament and capable to spring a surprise will be the host side PMC Athletico Faisalabad. Coached by one of the top coaches of Pakistan in recently appointed Akhtar Mohiuddin, PMC will be backed by the local support and will definitely enjoy home crowd support. Akhtar’s surprising decision to coach PMC Athletico has been a source of shock and surprise across the football realm of Pakistan. The former national team head coach from Chaman is regarded at par with Tariq Lutfi as being the top coaches ever produced by Pakistan.

Captained by Pakistani Football legend Haroon Yousaf – himself a former NFCC winner with WAPDA and the now-defunct ABL football team –  PMC Athletico will also be the first club in history to play in the National Challenge Cup as it has only seen department’s play thus far. Their success might pave the way for other clubs to play in coming years.

We at FootballPakistan.Com will like to see the Faisalabad public coming in thousands to see this tournament. A centralized venue with the cream of Pakistani football talent on display is a true football fans dream. We will cover the event in great detail at the website and on the Facebook pages. Come on fans, let’s have fun enjoying OUR own FA Cup