THARPARKAR: "We didn't expect to win," the Thar Terminators coach Zakaullah exclaimed as his team was about to take the trophy of the Thar Foundation All Sindh Girls tournament as they defeated Karachi Royals 2-1 on penalty kicks on their home ground in Islamkot Taluqa on Tuesday.
It was big for the team to win, but even a bigger event for the spectators who were witnessing a football tournament for the first time.
In fact, the U13 tournament is the first football tournament to take place in Tharparkar.
The three-day event only saw increase in the crowd from day one till the final, while the spectators mostly consisted of boys and men cheering for the girls, with third graders commenting on how they would want to play football too.
Zakaullah along with his fellow coaches Mohammad Hanif and Jumman are finally seeing the fruits of their labour.
The youngsters ranging from 21 to 24 years of age had only been introduced to football in April, where they trained their students at the Thar Foundation school, where they also teach.
"We never thought we can defeat children from Karachi, it is the biggest city and the children their train regularly. But we had only hoped to win. Our girls are ecstatic. They win the trophy, the money, now they want to play more seriously after this tournament," Zakaullah told The Express Tribune.
The coaches had learned football from Diya Football Club members first, who also helped organise the event, as the latter came on the invitation of Thar Foundation Manager Sabeen Shah.
"We never knew any other sport besides cricket, but now in villages girls want to play football and so do boys," said Hanif.
There were two teams that were fielded by Thar: the Thar Terminators and Thar Thunder.
The other teams in the seven-a-side tournament were Karachi Royals, Sukkur Storm, Hyderabad Hawks, Khairpur Knights, Mirpurkhas Challengers and Hub Cheetahs.
The teams played in two groups and top two qualified for the semi-finals.
According to Shah, the aim is to help empower the children in Thar, especially girls who will benefit from sports, even when at first their families might have hesitated to let them play.
Even before the final, one of the team players Devi had to overcome the resistance from her own brother to even participate in the match. But for others, the parents have been supportive.
With the win, Thar got Rs75,000 prize money, something that the girls are excited about.
"I'll have a good breakfast," the Terminators' co-captain Devi said, while others saw it as a bonus, each girl in the team would get Rs6,000.
And that is something that can be a way of motivating the youth, the Runners up got Rs50,000. Thar Thunders finished third and received Rs40,000, whereas Hyderabad Hawks bagged Rs25,000 for fair play.
However, the event didn’t culminate without drama as the issue with age arose for the Khaipur Knights, who had failed to produce authentic documents for the players and their age.
The first semi-final went smoothly, between Karachi Royals and Thar Thunder, with former registering a 1-0 win.
However, Khairpur did not play the semi-final against Terminators. Their team had been asked to field the players according to the age group, but they had brought older players and failed to give authentic documents on time.
While their manager raised concerns on refereeing and unfair treatment before the semi-final, the team ultimately decided to not play the semi and Terminators got the walk-over.
"Mirpurkhas and Khairpur girls are older, look at their players and ours," a spectator had complained during the Thar Thunder match on day one of the tournament.
The event was hosted by the Thar Foundation and organised with the aim to keep it as an annual fixture from now on.
The students of Thar Foundation schools are trained on regular basis. There are 24 schools operated by Thar Foundation, and while the education is free, the only requirement for the student is to attend the school for 30 days.
Corps Commander Lt General Humayun Aziz also gave away the participation certificates on day two of the event, encouraging Thar youth to go to schools and get involved in sports, and especially complemented the girls for coming out for the event.