by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: The last 30 minutes of the road to Lisbon were the toughest as Lahore were crowned winners of Leisure Leagues National Seven-a-side Championship as they defeated underdogs Peshawar 3-2 on penalties at the Baloch Mujahid Stadium in Karachi on Saturday night.
An intense match was well received by the local Ibrahim Hyderi crowd despite being goalless at full-time. The close penalty shoot-out added to the occasion as both teams were not only competing for the inaugural trophy, but also for a chance to compete at the 2018 Socca World Cup in September.
Lahore had defeated Quetta’s Sherof FC 1-0 in the semi-finals, while Peshawar’s Shinwari FC had accounted for Karachi’s Khyber Muslim FC 3-2 on penalties on June 29.
“I can’t even explain the feelings I have at the moment,” Lahore’s captain Afaq Ahmed, a software engineer by profession, told The Express Tribune as his team celebrated their victory in the background. “We were competing at the Neymar 5 event last year too. This is huge; I can’t explain my feelings right now.”
Meanwhile, on the losing side, the pain of defeat hurt much more as Shinwari FC player Alamgir was left visibly dejected at full-time.
“It’s hard to lose the final; we were that close to Lisbon,” said Alamgir. “One of the greatest motivations for us was to get to the Socca World Cup. I feel we lost badly, and the penalty shoot-out is a little harder since the goal is much smaller when compared to that in 11-a-side football.”
On the other hand, the emotions were mixed as Quetta’s Muhammad Kahsif took the top-scorer award. For Kashif, a miner in Machh, the sport will continue but being defeated in the semi-finals still hurt.
“Losing in the semi-final is not the best feeling in the world, we lost by a goal that we conceded early on in the match — so it is a lesson too — but we will hopefully return stronger next year,” said Kashif.
The National Championship featured eight clubs; Quetta’s Sherof FC, Karachi’s Khyber Muslim FC, Lahore’s ICAW, Islamabad’s Red Devils, Seven FC from Mardan, Thunderbolt from Hyderabad, Peshawar’s Sinwari FC and Qilla Saifullah’s Shaheed FC.
National women’s and men’s team captains Hajra Khan and Kaleemullah were present at the closing ceremony, where Leisure Leagues CEO Ishaq Shah thanked the locals of Ibrahim Hyderi for their support in organising the event.