An event to remember [TNS]

An event to remember [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

If we disregard all controversies, the recently concluded National Football Challenge Cup held under the Ashfaq Hussain-led Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) at the historic Tehmas Khan Stadium Peshawar was a big success. The viewership of the event was amazing. Barring local crowd, vehicles were seen bringing die-hard fans from Karak, Kohat and other areas of tribal districts for the final.

Because of low capacity of the venue, a number of people climbed various buildings around it to watch the mouth-watering final of the 15-team event which was mostly conducted under floodlights.

This was the first time that the major domestic event was conducted at Peshawar. Every one praised the grassy pitch of the venue. This was the first time that such a great pitch was prepared which most team coaches said was like a carpet.

According to Basit Kamal, organising secretary, KP Sports Board spent a lot on the pitch a year ago when Junaid Khan was Director General of the Board.

Those who played on the pitch say that they had never seen such a ground anywhere in Pakistan. The venue is located at the sports zone surrounded by the cricket hub Peshawar Gymkhana, Arbab Niaz Stadium and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Cricket Academy.

FIFA Goal Project is also located at the same area. The PFF could not get the project due to some dispute.

Having the experience of covering football matches at the same venue for five years, I feel it important that the authorities enhance its capacity which will make the venue a perfect place for organising such big events in future.

Basit said that in 1980s huge crowds used to throng the venue but since then he had never seen such a thick attendance as was seen during this National Football Challenge Cup.

“It was a huge success of football,” Basit said.

Peshawar, which was a no-go zone for sports teams because of terror incidents, is now ready to host major domestic events as peace has now been perfectly restored.

Army finally reclaimed the Challenge Cup crown when they beat Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) 3-2 in the final held last Sunday. It was indeed one of the best games of the competitions. Army recovered from two goals down to beat SSGC. Before this, Army had won the title in 2000 and 2001.

It means Army were able to emerge victorious in the event after 18 long years. Challenge Cup is the second biggest domestic competition after the Premier League.

Army’s skipper Ansar Abbas struck twice in the final. After a long time Army were seen having a strong unit. It was a perfect blend of youth and experience.

A tidy, long camp benefitted Army. In June soldiers played a three-match series at Rawalpindi against the Uzbekistan Army side. After that they remained in the camp and this eventually paid dividends.

Because of the heavy pitch and hot weather, only super-fit teams were able to perform well in the event which was organised by the KP Football Association under the Ashfaq-led PFF.

This was the first final which SSGC played. And full marks to coach Tariq Lutfi. SSGC in the past was seen as a spent force with mediocre strength but Lutfi transformed it into a force through expensive inductions which is the need of the hour.

SSGC lost the final because of injury to its key defender Naved and injury to its other main defender Mengal during warm-up ahead of the decider damaged their cause.

But it’s part of the game. The way SSGC played throughout the event was remarkable. The team also missed some players who were suspended by Ashfaq’s PFF for not attending its camp which had been held by in Islamabad in connection with the World Cup qualifiers.

It was indeed a heart-breaking experience for six-time winners Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) who lost to Army 3-1 in the semi-final in penalty shootout after the match ended in a goalless draw in the regulation and extra time.

KRL then beat WAPDA 1-0 to claim bronze medal. KRL, indeed, were the most effective of teams in the event with commanding wins in most of the matches. The fitness of their players was top-notch.

The players were kept throughout in air-conditioned rooms and no one was allowed to go outside. KRL manager Ayaz Butt is highly popular as he looks after his players very well. A cook had been kept during the event for preparing special dishes.

Hiring goalkeeping coach Aslam Khan ahead of the event also benefited the Rawalpindi-based team. Aslam is a former Pakistan goalkeeping coach and had been jobless for a few years.

It was a disappointing event for PAF who were the defending champions. Having done quite well in the league stage, PAF faced a 0-3 drubbing at the hands of WAPDA in the quarter-final.

Newly-formed Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA), Navy and Police were the other quarter-finalists.

It was another disappointing event for Nasir Ismail’s National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and Karachi Port Trust (KPT) who failed to move beyond the league stage.

Karachi United and PFF Tigers, formed by Ashfaq-led PFF, also showcased their talent in the event.

Former Premier League winners K-Electric skipped the event for “budgetary issues”. The future set-up of the PFF would definitely put Peshawar as one of the centres for the Premier League and Challenge Cup keeping in view the craze of the people for the sport.

Officials of most teams said the refereeing standard was below standard. The organisers had no support of the FIFA referees, so the event was conducted through less experienced and less qualified referees.

The floodlight condition was also bad and because of continual disruption teams had to face issues.

The semi-final between Army and KRL was a nail-biting one, lasting for three hours. The floodlight system must be improved as it is the era of night matches.

As FIFA and AFC delegation is scheduled to visit Pakistan after Eid-ul-Azha for appointing members to normalisation committee for PFF it’s time for both PFFs to support the committee.

Both federations have submitted five names each for the committee. Two members each would be selected by a two-member team of FIFA and AFC which is due in Pakistan next week.

The committee has been tasked to run day-to-day affairs of Pakistan’s football and hold elections at district, provincial and PFF levels. The committee will have to complete its task within nine months of its appointment.

Published in The News on Sunday, 11 August 2019