Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: The country’s premier cup competition starts off on Tuesday with hope that knockout-style football will bring the best out of Pakistan’s football talent and its teams.
Defending champions National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) kicks off the NBP Challenge Cup when they take on the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in their Group ‘C’ match here at the KPT Stadium.
Last season’s losing finalists K-Electric will play Tuesday’s other game, a Group ‘B’ tie against the Pak-Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA) at the KMC Stadium.
“Knockout-style football brings the best out of the teams and the players,” Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Director Competitions Wing Commander Pervaiz Saeed Mir told Dawn at the end of a press conference to announce the opening of the event at the Karachi Press Club here on Monday.
“During the league, teams play with a different mindset,” he added. “In the Cup, teams can show how good they are and how well they can handle pressure while in the league you can afford an off-day knowing it won’t affect your position much.”
The NBP head into the Challenge Cup after a disappointing campaign in the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) where they avoided relegation in their final fixture of the season.
However, NBP’s Sports Chief Iqbal Qasim, who was also present at the press conference, hoped his team will give it their best to defend their title.
“We have a promising group of players,” Iqbal told Dawn. “We’ve hand-picked them and I personally believe we have the ability to defend our title.”
The former Test cricketer also gave his views on the problems in Pakistan football and with its teams.
“We face problems on the management level,” he opined. “Our coaches need to know how to handle players in a better way so that they can fulfil their potential.”
Earlier at the press-conference, PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi faced a barrage of questions about the growth of Pakistan football.
“Our goal is to have the Pakistan team in the top 10 of Asia by 2022,” Lodhi stated. “By holding such football events, we hope it will lead to the uplift of the game.”
Lodhi added that football in the country needed support for growth. “Football will only improve if there is support for the game at all levels,” he said. “There is a need to establish a footballing culture.”
The PFF secretary emphasised that Sindh had been a hub of football talent in the country and hoped players from the province — especially from Karachi’s Lyari area — would again be seen in large numbers in the national team.
Lyari, known as mini-Brazil for its fanatical following of football, has been rocked by unrest in recent years.
Football was hit in the area last August when a blast outside a football stadium killed 11 people following the final of a Ramazan Football Tournament.
“The blast was very unfortunate,” Lodhi said. “But I hope that football will help people overcome that tragedy and with the talent in the area, there will soon be representation from Lyari in the national team.”
Lyari’s People’s Football Stadium will see no action during the Challenge Cup with KPT Stadium and the KMC Stadium holding the matches of the event.
The 12 participating teams have been divided into four groups of three with the top two teams at the end of the group stage progressing into the quarter-finals. The final is on May 5.
Today’s fixtures (both kick-offs at 4:15pm PST):
NBP v HEC (Group ‘C’, KPT Stadium); K-Electric v PACA (Group ‘B’, KMC Stadium).