KARACHI: Pakistan women’s football team’s key striker Shahlyla Ahmadzai Baloch died in a car crash in an upscale neighbourhood of Karachi Thursday morning, leaving a gap that will never be filled.
Born in Quetta in 1996, Shahlyla was part of a family with a proud history of footballing involvement. Her mother, Senator Rubina Irfan, is chairperson of the Pakistan Football Federation’s women wing. One of Shahlyla’s sisters, Raheela Zarmeen, is the national team’s manager, while the other, Sohaila Zarrain, is an international player. The 20-year-old was labelled the female version of ‘Maradona’ in the Pakistani women’s team.
Pakistani footballer Shahlyla Baloch passes away in Karachi car accident
According to Raheela, Shahlyla succumbed to injuries she received after the car she was travelling in skidded off the road in Karachi’s Defence neighbourhood.
“I remember Shahlyla coming in for the first time when she was barely 11 years old,” national team coach Tariq Lutfi told The Express Tribune. “She began really young and the most impressive thing about her was her skill set. She was a real talent and technically the soundest player in the squad — possessing that kind of technique is very rare among the country’s female footballers. She was a league above the rest. I still remember her infectious personality; she was a spirited child and a very passionate footballer,” he said while reminiscing about the budding footballer’s skill set and passion for the sport.
Lutfi had seen Shahlyla grow as part of the national women’s team camp, with the youngster being part of the inaugural South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Women Championship in 2010 that took place in Dhaka. Aged just 14 back then, Shahlyla got herself on the scoresheet to further underline the precocious talent she possessed, becoming the youngest goal scorer in Pakistan’s history.
RIP Shahlyla Ahmadzai Baloch, the shining pearl of Balochistan
The Balochistan United FC player was one of the most consistent players in the squad and also scored in the country’s last international outing during the 2014 Saff Women’s Championship against Bhutan.
Football in Pakistan has come to a standstill in the last couple of years, but Shahlyla’s talent meant she was not short of suitors from abroad. She moved to Maldives in 2015 to play for the Sun Hotel and Resorts football team and also made history there; becoming the first female Pakistani footballer to score a hat-trick for a foreign club.
When she returned to Pakistan in June of last year she enrolled at Greenwich University for her bachelors but continued to train with a local club alongside that. “She was training at Zamzama United, where I coach too,” said Lutfi. “She would come in every week and despite the lack of opportunities for our women team to play, she would keep training.”
The loss of the country’s most gifted female footballer has understandably left many in shock, with national goalkeeper Syeda Mahpara Shahid saying that the team were speechless after hearing the news. “I really can’t talk right now,” said Mahpara. “Shahlyla was the most charming and helpful teammate I have had. She was a friend to all of us.”
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Like Lutfi, Mahpara had praise not only for Shahlyla the woman but also for Shahlyla the player. “Her shots were like bullets during training. She was accurate too and she had confidence and aggression in her game. There were so many good memories that we shared. I really can’t talk anymore.”
Former national team official Sadia Sheikh revealed that Shahlyla was particularly supported by her father Irfan Baloch and that her parents were especially proud of her. “I still remember this little tomboy in the team, I just can’t forget her. To me, she’ll always be that spirited young player ready to take on whichever opponent stood in her way, regardless of how big or old they were,” said Sheikh. “It is a huge loss for the country because we really don’t have that many women footballers, let alone those that were that good. This has left a huge gap.”
That gap would be felt most painfully and agonisingly by Shahlyla’s parents, who have left for Kalat to bury their 20-year-old daughter. She may have been the country’s best hope of producing a truly world-class female footballer, but for her distraught father, she will always be his youngest and favourite daughter.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2016.
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