ISLAMABAD: Widely accused of favoritism, and largely blamed for Pakistan’s group stage exit at the SAFF Women’s Championship, sisters Shahlyla Baloch and Raheela Zarmain hit out at their critics, saying they were the national team’s “best choice”.

Striker Shahlyla was slammed for failing to score in Pakistan’s opening two group games against Sri Lanka and Nepal while Raheela was blamed as being too young for a manager at an elite event.

Add to the fact that their mother, Senator Rubina Irfan, is the chairperson of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Women’s Wing, they have been widely riled for Pakistan’s premature exit at their home event.

After losing to Sri Lanka and Nepal to go out of contention for the semi-finals, Pakistan restored some battered pride with a 4-1 win over Nepal in their last group match.

And although PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat termed Pakistan’s performance at the SAFF Women’s Championships as “an improvement over the last few campaigns”, critics have slammed Rubina’s daughters – and her “alleged” influence on the selection of the Pakistan’s women’s team.

“I think we are criticised mainly because our mother is in the federation,” Shahlayla told Dawn on Friday.

“There are other sister duos in the national team as well but they are never riled as we are,” added the 17-year-old.

Shahlayla did manage to find the back of the net against Nepal but for a player who was so widely tipped to be one of the stars of the championship by Pakistan team coach Tariq Lutfi, it was a dismal outcome.

“The best players always get criticized,” she said. “I have no regrets because I gave it my best shot.

“I can challenge all the players who think they are better than me to come and play in my position and then we’ll se who’s the best.”

Raheela struck a similar tone to her sister, saying her managerial expertise made her the best choice to be Pakistan’s manager at the regional extravaganza.

The 22-year-old was a surprise selection to be the manager of the national team when Lutfi appointed her two months prior to the event.

“I think amongst the last four managers of the national team, I’m by far the most qualified,” said Raheela, who has an AFC ‘D’ License badge and plans to do a FIFA Masters.

She said age was no barrier in being a manager of the national team.

“It’s a positive change in Pakistan as today’s youth is tomorrow’s future,” she said.

“Look at my track record. It’s been two years since I became manager of Balochistan United and this year we were crowned national champions.”

Raheela and Shahlyla both stressed they have earned their rightful place in the team.

“We’re the pioneers of women’s football in Pakistan,” Raheela said. “I played in the very first women’s football championship in Pakistan back in 2005.”

Shahlyla added: “Then, I was a seven-year-old who also earned a FIFA award for being the youngest scorer. Isn’t that enough proof of talent?”

Raheela, however, admitted the team needs more exposure and commitment by the PFF to produce better results in the future.

“This time we’ve created a young team and most of our critics have been the old guard who we’ve replaced with young blood,” she said.

“The tour of Bahrain [ahead of the SAFF Championship] was the first time the national team has had friendly exposure.

“Of course we need time and more exposure to produce better results.

“But I can confidently say that if the PFF sticks with this team and the management, I’m sure that we’ll be the winners of the next edition of the SAFF Championship.”

Published in Dawn, November 22th, 2014

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