Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Two goals in eight second-half minutes helped Habib Bank Limited (HBL) scrape through to the quarter-finals of the NBP Challenge Cup with a 3-2 victory over Pakistan Air Force (PAF) here on Sunday.
After Pakistan international striker Mohammad Mujahid put PAF 2-1 up in the 63rd minute at the KMC Stadium, HBL responded with Hassan equalising two minutes later before Mohammad Bilal netted the winner in the 73rd to help his side pip PAF to top spot in Group ‘D’ and a last-eight clash against Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
PIA, meanwhile, were consigned to second spot in Group ‘A’ after Saadullah’s ninth-minute header secured a 1-0 win for Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) Champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) at the KPT Stadium in Sunday’s other game.
KRL’s reward for advancing to the quarter-finals was a date with PAF for a spot in the final four on Tuesday.
Group ‘D’ finished tightest amongst the four three-team groups with HBL, PAF and Pakistan Police finishing level on three points each.
HBL and PAF both scored four goals, one more than Police and the bankers took top spot courtesy a better head-to-head against Shahzad Anwar’s PAF side.
“HBL are the bogey team for us,” Shahzad told Dawn after the match. “No matter what form they are in, they always manage to get the better of us.”
In an end-to-end match, exciting playmaker Mansoor Khan put PAF ahead in the 12th minute but Saeed Ahmed levelled for HBL in the 62nd.
Although Mujahid restored PAF’s lead right after the restart, Yousuf Khan’s side went all out to seal a spot in the last eight of the country’s premier cup tournament.
“We had no other option but to attack,” Yousuf told Dawn at the end of the match. “We went all out and thankfully grabbed victory.
“This is a big boost for us considering that we were relegated from the PPFL last season and hopefully we’ll continue our revival against PIA.”
Although none of the officials commented on what ensued after the game at the KMC Stadium but sources told Dawn that a number of Police players and fans protested that PAF had given two soft goals to HBL to ensure that Police were dumped out of the competition.
PIA went to their clash against KRL having already booked their quarter-final spot with a 2-1 win over Pakistan Navy two days ago.
KRL needed only a draw following their 1-1 draw against Navy in their opening match to qualify for the last eight but instead sealed top spot in their section following Saadullah’s early goal.
However, the victory came at a cost for KRL who lost captain and star defender Kamran Khan to an injury.
“He might not be fit for the next game,” KRL head coach Tariq Lutfi told Dawn. “However, it was a morale-boosting win for us and hopefully we’ll give our best against PAF to reach the last four.”
On Monday, the first two quarter-finals will be played with defending champions National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) taking on Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and K-Electric facing Wapda.