KARACHI: The Premier League champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) were on Friday clubbed in Group A, featuring all the South Asian clubs, as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) unveiled draws for the AFC President’s Cup first round to be held in May.
Sri Lanka’s Air Force SC, Sheikh Russel Krira Chakara Limited of Bangladesh and Ugyen Academy of Bhutan, who edged undefeated Yeedzin by a single point to win the 2013 Bhutan National League, are in KRL’s group, the matches of which will be played in Sri Lanka. The three teams are taking part in the event for the first time.
KRL, who ended as runners-up in the previous edition when they went 0-1 down to Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC in the final in Kuala Lumpur last September, are the most experienced club of the slots, having appeared three times.
This is the second time in the history of the third-tier club competitions that no former champions are taking part in the affair.
This is the last edition of the President’s Cup, an event organised by the AFC for the emerging countries in Asia.
Two outfits from each group will make it to the final six-team round to be conducted in September.
The six teams which qualify for the AFC President’s Cup final stage will enter the 2015 AFC Cup play-offs. And from 2015 onwards centralised qualifiers will determine the six teams which will enter the AFC Cup play-offs.
KRL, who lifted their fourth Premier League title this season, will be badly missing their key front-runners Mohammad Aadil and prolific Kaleemullah, as they are representing Dordoi Bishkek FC in Kyrgyzstan league on loan.
But KRL manager Ayaz Butt said that they would try to overcome the deficit. “The absence of Adil and Kaleem will be a big disadvantage for us. We have not found any replacement for them and are looking desperately to induct good players. But I hope we will manage to form a good team,” Butt told ‘The News’.
He said that unlike the previous edition, their Group was not very tough this time. “Last year, we were in a tough group, but this time I feel that we have a slightly better group,” said Butt.
Butt said he would request the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to give them their two key players Saddam Hussain and Bilawal-ur-Rehman for the Sri Lanka event.
Both are part of the Pakistan team which will tour Palestine in May to appear in the Al-Nakba International Football tournament to be held there from May 1-15. “We are desperate to move into the next round so that we could appear in the AFC Cup play-offs,” Butt said. “We will hold the camp in Rawalpindi from April 10. After a couple of weeks’ training there we will try to hold a week-long camp in Karachi as the weather here is similar to that in Sri Lanka,” Butt said.
Rimyongsu will become the first club from DPR Korea to take part in the AFC President’s Cup. Rimyongsu have been drawn in Group B with former AFC President’s Cup semi-finalists HTTU FC from Turkmenistan, Chinese Taipei’s Tatung, and hosts Ceres– La Salle, who will be hoping to have home advantage in their debut campaign.
Another team looking for home advantage is 2010 semi-finalists Erchim FC of Mongolia. The eight-time Mongolian league champions will host three-team Group C that also features AFC President’s Cup newcomers Svayrieng, the Cambodian league champions, who were previously known as Preah Khan Reach, and Nepal league winners Manang Marshyangdi, who are returning to the tournament for the second time after taking part in the 2006 edition.
Group stage draw:
Group A: Air Force SC (Sri Lanka), KRL (Pakistan), Sheikh Russel Krira Chakara Ltd (Bangladesh), Ugyen Academy (Bhutan).
Group B: Ceres– La Salle (Philippines), FC HTTU (Turkmenistan), Tatung (Chinese Taipei), Rimyongsu (DPR Korea).
Group C: Erchim FC (Mongolia), Manang Marshyangdi (Nepal), Svayrieng (Cambodia).