KARACHI: Top fitness level eventually yielded a result when Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) proved everyone wrong to crush strong Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) 4-0 to clinch their record fifth title as the 12th Pakistan Premier Football League concluded here at KPT Stadium on Sunday.
KRL needed a win by a margin of four goals to win the league. And they did that thanks to a double from Izharullah and one goal apiece by Iftikhar and Junaid.
Both KRL and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) finished the season with 51 points each. They were also tied on goal average which was 40. But KRL had conceded 12 goals, one less than PAF.
KRL had previously won the league in 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14. WAPDA have four crowns to their credit which they claimed in 2004-05, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2010-11 season.
The last league game, which had acquired the status of a final, turned out to be a one-sided affair due to horrible performance from SSGC’s defence.
KRL began the game at a fast pace and soon went ahead when Iftikhar hit a solid goal in the tenth minute. KRL kept the pressure up and in the 20th minute doubled their lead when Izharullah sneaked past SSGC’s defence before nudging the ball into the far post past the diving SSGC gloveman.
Six minutes later, Junaid added to the misery of SSGC when his pile-driver from inside the area went into the cage. At half time, KRL were leading 3-0. Six minutes into the second half, Izharullah completed his brace through a brilliant header which gave the Rawalpindi-based side the title.
“It’s unbelievable,” the ecstatic KRL coach Sajjad Mehmood told ‘The News’ after his team’s magical win.“I had told my boys that they must score a goal in the first ten minutes. They did that which put pressure on the opponents. We kept pressing them through counter-attacks that created rooms which were converted,” said Sajjad, who has proved a lucky coach for KRL.
KRL manager Ayaz Butt, who was not present with his team because of his daughter’s wedding ceremony in Islamabad, was extremely happy with his outfit’s remarkable victory.“It’s indeed a miracle as SSGC are a strong team and its coach Tariq Lutfi is a shrewd person,” Ayaz Butt told ‘The News’ from Islamabad.
“It wasn’t easy to come to this level and press for the title because some of our key players left us before the season began. And we needed to win by a margin of at least four goals to win the league,” Butt said.
“The credit goes to our management and KRL chairman Tahir Ikram, who has been helpful in enhancing the packages of the players. Today you can see that our players get handsome salaries of Rs80,000 to Rs85,000,” Butt said.
“This is our fifth title. We will keep winning titles. But I would request the top football authorities to settle their dispute so that our team could get international exposure. If you don’t give international exposure to the players it will also go against Pakistan team’s interest,” the official said.
Butt said that his boys were in top physical shape that paid dividends. “We kept our boys fit during the entire season. You will not see any hamstring problem to any player and today they showed their class,” Butt said.
SSGC coach Tariq Lutfi blamed his defence for the defeat. “Our defence flopped today,” Tariq said.
SSGC, having the services of several Pakistan players, had risen to the top-tier league through controversial qualifiers introduced by the FIFA-recognised Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
SSGC, with 50 points, finished third.
PAF’s assistant manager Mohammad Arshad was shocked by his team’s losing a great opportunity of kissing their maiden title. “I am really disappointed as we had 80 percent chance of winning the title. But it’s part of the game. KRL needed four goals and they scored those,” Arshad said.
Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) Dr Fehmida Mirza distributed the prizes.The winners KRL were handed over Rs1.2 million with the runners-up PAF going away with Rs900,000 and SSGC taking Rs600,000.
Besides, Rs120,000 each was handed over to Tanvir Mumtaz (best goalie, KRL), Mohammad Naeem (best player, 13 goals, two hat-tricks, PCAA) and Ansar Abbas (Army, leading scorer, 15 goals).
Since Pakistan has been denied an AFC Cup slot this time by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) because of club licensing issue, the new champions KRL will not be able to appear in the event in 2019.
The league remained legal until it was handled by FIFA-recognised Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). FIFA and AFC will not recognise any football activity in Pakistan held after December 31, 2018, the day on which the newly-elected PFF got control of the PFF headquarters and accounts from FIFA-recognised PFF.