One word sums it all up. It’s been a long time coming. It was fully deserved. No lucky breaks, no divine aid. It was pure class – and the victory at the end of the day was sweet, sweeter than one would have imagined.
FC IBA United won its first ever tournament last Monday.
A little background.
IBA United has been lauded by many observers over the years for its strong midfield play. That was always the strength – good passing and movement by a four-man midfield. However, a lack of consistency (discipline in the defense and finishing from the attackers) has dogged IBA Utd since I have been part of it (August 2006). We have had some great defenders and strikers, but never consistently brilliant. In fact we have rarely had the same starting XI two weeks in a row.
Despite that, IBA United has been pinpointed as one of the favorites to win every tournament we have played since 2006. In the KU Football Tournament Spring 2006, IBA was touted as one of the leading candidates to win, but were knocked out in the semifinal against the Pharmacy Dept, a thrilling game that ended 4-2 as we failed to keep pace with the Africans. In the Ramadan Night Tournament at the KMC ground in October 2007, we were knocked out again in the semifinal by the eventual winners, St. Patrick’s, in a close contest that eventually ended 3-1. Come June 2008 and we were fighting in the Aga Khan Inter-University Football Tournament with a depleted squad (most of the first team was out of Karachi due to the holidays). A great run of three unbeaten matches saw us into the semifinal where IBA United came back from a goal down not once, but three times to draw the game 3-3 and force penalties, where we were sadly knocked out. The next tournament was the LUMS Invitational in December 2008, where we won three matches in three days to reach the final (for a change) but were thrashed 4-0 against the hosts (whom we had beaten 1-0 just two days ago). Most recently IBA United suffered another penalty shootout heartbreak, this time against CBM, in the quarterfinal of the AKU Tournament (April 2009). After a scrappy 0-0 affair, IBA United initially took the lead in the penalties but two consecutive misses saw us knocked out again.
We all thought that would be the last competition of the season.
Enter Korangi Football Club and the first-ever CFC Inter University Football Tournament. It was initially a pretty haphazard affair – no one seemed to know where the ground was, or who was playing in the tournament! IBA United had several first team members missing throughout the tournament as well. Despite the depleted line up, we started off well against Ziauddin with a 2-0 victory, Omr Mukhtar and Fauzan Naeem scoring a goal in each half. Owing to the security situation in Korangi our game against NED was delayed – and eventually we realized that due to some teams pulling out it had evolved into a four-team contest, and the second fixture was actually the semifinal! IBA United fought hard against a quality NED side, marked by an outstanding defensive performance from Saad Warraich, and when Daniyal Alvi supplied a great assist for Athar Khan in the second half, the game was signed, sealed, and delivered. On the same day, Ziauddin were defeated by CBM on penalties and so the final was set: IBA United vs IoBM.
Revenge? I don’t know. But we definitely had a debt to repay to our supporters at IBA (especially those who watched us get knocked out at the AKU Tournament two years in a row), a point to prove against the many critics and naysayers, a score to settle against the boys in maroon from CBM.
15th June 2009. We reached the ground over an hour in advance to discuss strategy and knock the ball around a bit, practice taking penalties – time well spent!! Midfielder Athar Khan was missing as he was out of the country, prompting a change in the usual formation. IBA United lined up 4-4-2, with Muhammad Shaharyar between the sticks, Sameer Zafar playing at right back, Saad Mustafa ‘Warrioraich’ and Bijar Khan in the center, and Ali Mohsin in the left back position. Omr Mukhtar slotted into right wing as usual, but on the left wing it was Omar Hasan Khan taking the place of Athar Khan. Daniyal Alvi moved back to fill the empty position in central midfield alongside Osman Iqbal, while Fauzan Naeem, as support striker, took his place slightly behind Asad Saeed, leading the line as target man.
The game started off with IBA United attacking strongly as Omr Mukhtar sprinted down the right wing but failed to deliver a good cross for Asad. IBA United pushed up and made life difficult for CBM, who were on the back foot initially. We won two or three corner kicks but were unable to convert them. A few minutes later Daniyal Alvi broke free and skipped past two opponents to fire over the bar. However, our rivals responded strongly with sustained pressure and for a period IBA was finding it hard to face the music as CBM took over the midfield and repeatedly attacked down the wings. Their speedy left winger Junejo was a real handful for Sameer with his deft touches, although Mr. Zafar handled him extremely well and limited him to just one swerving, dipping shot. The defenders had a real job on their hands coping with pace down the wings and counterattacks down the middle. They were able to handle CBM’s attacks, but were also slightly lax with clearances, preferring to take a risk and dribble or pass the ball out of the danger zone. It was only a matter of time, and as feared, the bad guys took the lead midway through the first half. An unnecessarily prolonged clearance led to CBM possession on the right wing – the cross was deflected and the defenders were unable to handle the loose ball; the chance was gleefully accepted by the CBM striker lurking in the box and Sherry, left wide open, was beaten to his left.
To their credit, IBA United did not let their enthusiasm drop and after kickoff seized control of the game, building up good combination play and asserting midfield dominance. Osman Iqbal and Daniyal Alvi really got stuck in, Sameer ran further up field to help out Omr Mukhtar down the right wing, and Fauzan and Asad did their best to give the CBM defenders a headache. Omar Hasan Khan was in good positions on the left but nothing came of them, for either the delivery to him was poor or he was unable to gain control of the through balls from Alvi and Fauzan. IBA United then won a free kick in a dangerous position close to the D, on the right side. Alvi took the dead ball but was unable to hit the target. Near the end of the first half a great opportunity fell IBA’s way as Asad, Omr Mukhtar, Sameer, and Daniyal Alvi wove together a great series of passes culminating in a cross to Osman Iqbal, who was unable to volley home from the edge of the box. We thus ended the first half on a high.
During the half time break there was intense discussion amongst the team as to how the formation could be reconfigured to add a cutting edge – with a goal down and 25-minute halves, there wasn’t enough time to stick to a system that had failed to offer the strikers with genuine chances. Initially we played with the idea of switching Fauzan to the left wing, moving Daniyal Alvi up front, and bringing Omar Khan to the middle where he belongs. Then it was decided that more radical changes were needed – Omr Mukhtar moved went up the pitch as striker, Sameer slotted in as right midfielder, Ali Mohsin switched sides, and Omar Hasan Khan filled the gap at left midfield. Fauzan was moved to the left wing and the ‘core’ of the team (central defenders and midfielders) remained as they were.
The system paid dividends as Omr Mukhtar, with his extreme pace, had the CBM defenders worried. As Sameer and Fauzan both used the width of the field well to create opportunities, gaps opened up in the center of the field which Osman exploited to the fullest and lofted a few balls through for Asad and Omr. Asad was caught offside once, but a few minutes later Omr was in the clear but could not control the high ball and the CBM keeper got to the ball first. The game gradually developed into an open contest as both teams struggled to score the all-important second goal. With just ten minutes left, a substitution helped spark life into IBA United. Omar Hasan Khan, suffering from a stiff thigh, was substituted for Kamil Mustafa, a natural left back. The fresh legs definitely added to the threat on the left wing and Fauzan benefited from the added support. With the attentions of the CBM side now towards the left, Sameer was able to break through and gain a free kick near the corner post. His eventual ball was cleared out to the edge of the D where Alvi controlled it with ease and shifted past one defender before he was fouled by the center back. The resultant free kick was around the same position from where he had missed in the first half. This time he lofted the ball in and Omr Mukhtar did a wonderful Pippo Inzaghi impersonation to steal in behind the befuddled CBM defenders and fire home. Cue exuberant celebrations – it was a great fight back, for the match was drawing to a close and IBA had not been able to break through. In fact there were only 5 minutes left and CBM attacked like wounded animals, only to be repelled by Bijar’s calm headers and then Sherry made a brilliant save at his near post to a dipping volley that was headed for the top corner.
The organizers then announced (to the surprise of the IBA United team) that extra time would NOT be played and the final would be decided on penalties. As the team sat down for a well-deserved rest and water break, Daniyal Alvi launched into a pep talk on confidence in penalty situations.
“Listen to me because I’m only going to say this once. Repeat after me: CONFIDENCE. Say it a hundred times in your head, until you take the kick, and nothing will go wrong. It’s all in the head…”
The practice session before the match paid off as there was no confusion this time about who was going to take penalties – it had been decided previously that Osman, Daniyal, Fauzan, Ali Mohsin, and Kamil would take the kicks. Osman and Daniyal converted their penalties with ease, and then the second CBM kick hit the crossbar. Fauzan could have given IBA the lead, but he mishit the ball and it rolled wide of the right hand post. The next IBA penalty taker was Kamil, who curled in a beautiful shot. Finally Ali Mohsin side footed it past the static CBM goalie. Sherry had been making some great guesses all through and each CBM penalty went in off his gloves. In any case,it was 4-4 and sudden death was underway. Sameer, who had missed the target in the AKU quarterfinal shootout, made no mistake this time and IBA had the lead. Destiny was on our side, and the next CBM kick rolled wide to spark wild celebrations by the IBA United squad!
It was a great, come-from-behind win by the boys in black. Despite the absence of several first team members, they performed brilliantly and beat all three of their opponents in the tournament to secure the first of many more trophies to come for IBA United.
If you can’t see the pictures in this post, visit Saad Warraich’s album.