Football Challenge Cup starts today sans PIA, HBL

Alam Zeb Safi [The News]

KARACHI: Two major teams, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Habib Bank Limited (HBL), will be deeply missed as the National Football Challenge Cup 2012 begins here at the KPT Stadium on Sunday with the hosts KPT taking on Pakistan Steel in their Group B opener.

The match will start at 4:15pm today on a lush green pitch that was watered on Saturday evening. This is the first time that PIA and HBL will not be able to play in a major domestic event which normally attracts a good crowd.

Both PIA and HBL have shown their unavailability due to their internal problems.

Sources said that HBL fired 15 ageing players recently, which left them with only 14 players. It was practically not possible for them to appear in the NFCC, they added.

Habib Bank is passing through restructuring phase and sources said it would be able to make a good team for the Premier League which would start in the middle of this year.

Sources said that PIA opted to skip the event as they too are trying to recruit more players and have a few key players on the injury list.

The details of the NFCC were unveiled here at the KPT Stadium by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) secretary Col Ahmad Yar Khan Lodhi at a press briefing on Saturday. Also present were the PFF Director Development and Competitions Wing Commander Pervez Saeed Mir, KPT General Manager Operations Rear Admiral Azhar Hayat, KPT Sports Manager Shah Naeem Zafar and Sindh Football Association (SFA) president Khadim Ali Shah.

Pakistan’s national Under-19 and Under-16 teams have also been put in the slots for the first time in the history of the competition to give them exposure.

The 16 teams featuring in the event have been placed in four groups. Group A carries WAPDA, Navy, Bahawalpur’s Ashraf Sugar Mills and Pakistan Under-16 team.

Group B has KESC, KPT, Pakistan Steel and Gawadar Port Authority.

Defending champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) have been bracketed in Group C with National Bank, Police and Pakistan Under-19 team.

Group D comprises Army, Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Pak PWD and Railways.

Two teams from each group will qualify for the quarter-finals to be held on March 18 and 19. The semifinals will be conducted on March 21, followed by play-off for the third place on March 22 and the final on March 23 at the KPT Stadium.

The matches will be held simultaneously at the KPT Stadium and People’s Sports Complex.

The winners will get Rs300,000, the runners-up will receive Rs200,000 and the team getting third position will go away with Rs100,000. The Fair-Play trophy winners will also be extended Rs30,000 along with the trophy. The best goalkeeper, the leading scorer and the best referee will get richer by Rs20,000 each. The best player will get Rs25,000, while Rs10,000 will be given to the best assistant referee.

Lodhi thanked KPT for sponsoring the event once again and said that they have developed a fine venue. He expressed the hope that they would turn it into a floodlit facility.

“For the last eight years, effort was mostly made for the promotion of football by the centre, but now the federating units will also have to work hard and generate their own revenues,” Lodhi said. “We will have to accelerate youth activities in Karachi. Youth is our future and if our colts can beat Indian colts twice at the SAFF Under-16 Championship in Nepal, we can hope that we will achieve the milestone of playing in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha,” Lodhi remarked.