A few months ago I began writing about my football journey, so to speak; that’s in chronological order and will continue to be so once I continue that! However, a bit of nostalgia has overcome me and not the good kind! I recently saw some updates of my Alma Mater’s team’s progress in an important tournament; the team progressed to the semifinal and it got me thinking back to when I had just become Captain and we debuted in that tournament. So this is a recollection of that tournament and the time around that…
I was the first elected Captain for IBA United – my university’s [Institute of Business Administration] football team. It was an honor and a privilege. The Captain’s role was of importance since we did not have a coach/manager. The election took place at the end of the ’07/08 season so I was to be Captain for the next season which would also be my final year or undergrad.
The selection was not complete surprise, not that I’m full of myself; but, till that point I had been a key player for the side for at least two years if not three. I was a central midfielder and always in the first eleven. I was relatively fit, had an eye for a pass, and was sure of my technique – no, I was no Zidane! Did I pull the strings for my team? Not really. Our style of play at the time was a bit more direct rather than possession based – of course we believed in building up play but with fewer passes.
Most of our games were friendlies but since there was usually a dearth of tournaments in Karachi, those friendlies were taken seriously. The friendlies were mostly versus amateur “clubs” and sometimes other universities and we were quite successful. I can actually count on my fingers the matches we struggled in – two. This is up till mid-2008, mind you, we had tough games after that too!
One match was versus St. Patrick’s High School, believe it or not! The boys had a coach who had obviously trained them well. They outplayed us on the night but we managed to hold them to a 2-2 draw. They held the ball and moved it around really well. Since we weren’t adept to playing a possession game, they would break down our attacks with ease as well. It was a frustrating night because I was used to us dominating teams – not necessarily by possession; but, by being more effective when going forward and holding our own comfortably at the back. We were dominated in that game, I can’t remember how we scored our two goals but we did.
The other game may have been in the ’06/07 season. One of IBA’s campuses is located within Karachi University (KU) and we often practiced or played games at KU’s football ground. KU had a contingent of students from different parts of Africa. Those boys used to play regularly as well; and, extended an invitation for a friendly one fine day. We agreed.
They whopped us 7-1 I think? The score could have been less perhaps if we played with offside; for some reason that day the rule was abolished. Our second half was better but they were just SO good. Or at least we thought. Their pace, movement, understanding with each other, and you just felt this power in everything they did. It was quite overwhelming. Even if we won the ball, our team would be so disjointed I wouldn’t know who to give it to! The only shining light in our team that day was a certain Omer Warraich.
Ah, Omer Warraich, what a player! He must have been 5ft 10″ tall and very lean. He was right footed but played on the left wing and had this brilliant ability to pick the ball up, and run it down the wing till the byline whilst eclipsing any challenges that came his way. Defenders could not keep up with him. Sometimes he would knock the ball ahead of his marker and sprint past him whilst on other occasions he would actually dribble past them with tease. No fancy footwork, he just had great control so even within the tightest space he’d manage to cut the ball inside towards his left foot, ensure the ball stays on the line, and just run with it! His decision making once he reached the byline left a lot to be desired at times. He had great composure on the ball and was very consistent. Incidentally, he was also the outgoing Captain.
Anyway, coming back to how decent a team we were; we participated in a tournament in KU in ’07/08. It was actually an inter-department tournament but somehow Omer Warraich had managed to get us invited. I believe it was a knockout tournament and we managed to win the round of 16 and quarterfinal games with relative ease. I scored penalties in both games as well, can’t remember if one of them was the winner or not. The semi-final was versus one of the Pharmacy department teams – that team comprised the African contingent and a couple of Arabs. I couldn’t believe our luck!
The game ended 4-2 to the Pharmacy team. We struggled initially but should not have been 2-0 down at halftime. A former senior was there and suggested a formation change for that game and that outdid us in the first half, we weren’t used to playing that formation. We rallied in the second half, bringing it to 3-2 at one point, missed a couple of glorious chances before they sealed it with a goal that should have been called offside. Regardless, we weren’t scared of that team anymore. There was a lot more belief in the team after that game as well.
I cannot remember how; but, I came across an invitation from the Aga Khan University Hospital for their annual Inter-Varsity Football Tournament. Despite the bureaucratic processes that were in place at IBA, I got us registered for the tournament. It was decided that I was to Captain the side for that tournament as well.
We had a good squad with potential game changers such as Omar Warraich and a freshman named Athar Khan. Athar was an explosive player – he was the sort who would drive through the middle with a lot of pace and power with the confidence and ability for some nifty footwork if required as well. He also had a powerful shot on him. I won’t elaborate more on him right now; but, I’ll just say he’s definitely one of the best players I’ve played with.
The groups were drawn and IBA was drawn in group C along with our local rival business school Institute of Business Management (IoBM) and Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS) from Jamshoro. LUMHS withdrew just before the tournament started so we only had to play one group game! Both teams would go through, the result would affect the quarterfinal draw.We drew 0-0 versus IoBM. If my memory serves me correct, I hit the crossbar in that game, the closest either side came to scoring. It was a scrappy game with both sides evenly match. My shot came from a poorly cleared corner, I always took up a position just outside the box when attacking a corner. The corner came in from the defending team’s right side, there was a scramble in the box, the ball trickled its way towards me in low bounces. I ran towards the ball, I was standing towards left-central outside the box so I was sort of far post in relation to the corner, and was supposed to strike it with the laces of my left boot with an aim towards my near post. I struck it with my left because I would not have had the time or space to adjust and shoot with my right. However, unintentionally, it came off the outside of my boot and the ball swerved upwards (because the ball the was rising and I swung my leg right through it) and away, dipped, but did not dip enough and came off the crossbar! It was very sweetly struck, just unintentionally!
Our quarterfinal was versus Jinnah Postgraduate Medical College. We won 5-0. My only recollection from that game is my goal and Sameer Zafar’s – another freshman – goal. I scored the fourth goal and I enjoyed it because of the pass and move. I received the ball around the center circle just inside their half, carried the ball till about five yards outside the opposition box till a center back came to close me down. Sameer was the wide player that day on the right and he had tucked in a little as I had carried the ball. I passed it to him and ran past the center back, Sameer played a first time angled return pass for me to run onto. The keeper had his near post covered but I drove the ball at goal anyway, luckily it went between his legs and a goal was scored!
Sameer then scored a beauty of a goal for the fifth. He received the ball at the top right corner of the box, the ball was grounded, he then struck it sweetly with the outside of his foot and the ball swerved into the top far corner. If you can’t imagine it then think of Henry’s record-equalizing goal versus Sparta Prague, similar area and similar trajectory – the only difference was that Henry’s goal was bottom corner and Sameer’s was top corner!
So, we were into the semifinal. We were to play the host team – Aga Khan University (AKU). The game would somehow change me for some time to come.
The AKU game was one of the toughest games I had ever played. We managed to draw 3-3 and take the game to penalties. I have no idea how that happened. They had outplayed us. They were collectively quicker than us, better coordinated than us when going forward. They pressed so well, I just never seemed to have time on the ball. I felt SO out of my depth in that game. I clearly remember Nabeel Shakeel’s own goal, it came from a corner, his poor attempt at a first time clearance resulted in a deflection and the ball flew into the back of the net. I always guarded a post so I had quite a close view of the incident! On a lighter note, Nabeel was prone to score own goals!
Athar scored one of the best free kicks I have ever seen for the equalizer. I remember Omar Warraich wanted to take the free kick – he was our regular set piece taker – but since I was Captain, I had the final say and Athar was very keen to take it. I don’t think I had ever seen Athar take a free kick before then, nor did I know he would actually take a shot from that far out! My gut told me to let Athar take it so I let him line it up without saying anything and just murmured to Warraich to let him take it. I can’t explain the free kick, so I drew it out, it was hit low and ended up in the bottom corner by the way [the positioning of the wall may be a bit inaccurate]:
The rest is a blur but again, Omer Warraich stood out and scored as well. Asad Saeed scored as well somehow, he was one of our less prolific strikers. We lost on penalties, I missed my first ever penalty for the team in the shootout. We were gutted but I felt AKU deserved it.
What cheesed me off though was the IoBM went on to win the tournament. I just could not understand how a team that we more than matched managed to beat a team like AKU.
After that game though, I just wasn’t the same player anymore. Yes, I had fitness issues too during my Captaincy year – my internship was in Dubai in the summer following the tournament and I gained six kilos! I had lost confidence in my dribbling, my attempts at through balls failed more often because of poor accuracy. The poor accuracy because I just wasn’t able to angle my foot and leg right to hit the ball in a straight line over a distance! The ball would eventually curve inwards a little which always allowed a center back to intercept easily. I couldn’t explain why this kept happening.
Why I just lost confidence on the ball.
The Captaincy year taught me a lot, I won’t go into it right now as this was just me reminiscing! Hopefully I’ll continue writing the remaining chapters of my “journey” soon enough and I’ll delve into the details there.
- Saad Warraich’s IBA United Facebook Album
- Screenshots from Dawn.com