WAPDA set up Challenge Cup final with SA Gardens

WAPDA set up Challenge Cup final with SA Gardens

Islamabad, 10 May 2024:

The 2023-24 PFF National Football Challenge Cup gave a spectacular show under lights and on camera with two gripping semifinals at Jinnah Stadium Islamabad.

WAPDA and SA Gardens booked their date with destiny by winning their respective games and will now face each other in the final on Sunday, 12 May. Pakistan Army and Higher Education Commission (HEC) bowed out and will now play the 3rd/4th place game on May 11.

In the first semi-final that kicked off at 6pm, Lahore’s SA Gardens faced a gritty HEC side that had previously inflicted a shock 1-0 defeat to pre-tournament favourites Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in the quarterfinal. SAG had to fight hard to beat WSTC 1-0 in their own quarterfinal clash.

The match remained goalless, with HEC relying on defending with numbers to frustrate SA Gardens for 120 minutes of normal and extra time. SA Gardens may consider themselves unlucky to have two seemingly sure shot girls disallowed for offside during the game.

SA Gardens vs HEC – Full Match

HEC could have nicked the game with chances forcing SAG’s Pakistan international goalkeeper Salman-ul-Haq ‘Kaka’ to make a string of fine saves to avoid conceding.

Eventually, the game was decided by penalties in which Salman ‘Kaka’ saved two HEC spotkicks in the shootout that SA Gardens won 3-2, earning a deserving Man of the Match praise. The occasion clearly getting to HEC’s young stalwarts.

HEC goalkeeper Muhammad Zaid saved one SAG penalty but unfortunately his own penultimate spotkick crashed off the bar and went out, giving SA Gardens a place in the Challenge Cup final. Coached by Zafar Iqbal, this was SAG’s first ever major final in their 3+ years history.

The second semifinal that kicked off at 9pm between Pakistani football’s two main stalwarts – WAPDA and Army – gave an entertaining 90 minutes in front a small Friday night Islamabad crowd.

WAPDA, the defending Challenge Cup champions from 2020 and with plenty of Pakistan MNT starters like Rao Umer Hayat, Shayak Dost and Alamgir Ghazi, began as favourites. Army dug deep and denied WAPDA chances to score.

WAPDA vs Army – Full Match

In fact, Army looked more dangerous on the counter with their forwards Afzaal and Qadeer Hussain both coming closest to scoring in the 1st half. Both Afzaal and Army team captain Umair Ali had both made their international debuts for Pakistan in the November 2022 friendly vs Nepal in Kathmandu as late substitutes.

In 2nd half, WAPDA turned up the heat. WAPDA winger Ahmad Faheem, who last played internationals for Pakistan way back in 2019, took the lead with a brilliant 58th minute direct freekick that gave the Army goalkeeper no chance. Faheem and the whole WAPDA team rejoiced, thinking they had done enough.

As the match seemingly looked to end in WAPDA’s favour, a slight handball in the WAPDA box by Shayak Dost in 83rd minute forced the referee to give Army a penalty giving the soldiers a lifeline. But WAPDA goalkeeper Hassan Ali was up to the task as he guessed right to save Umair Ali’s penalty kick to maintain the 1-0 lead.

With time running out, Shayak Dost made amends by scoring in stoppage time when an Ahmad Faheem setpiece into the Army box caused a goalmouth scramble, allowing Shayak to make it 2-0 and confirm WAPDA’s place in the final.

Pakistan MNT boss Stephen Constantine was in the stands watching intently, potentially eyeing players to call-up for the national team camp ahead of June’s World Cup qualifiers against Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan.

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