KARACHI: Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) were drawn with three fellow South Asian teams in the group stage of the AFC President’s Cup on Friday.
In the draw held at the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, KRL — last season’s losing finalists in Asia’s third-tier club competition — were drawn alongside Sri Lanka Air Force SC, Bangladesh Football Premier League champions Sheikh Russel and Ugyen Academy of Bhutan in Group ‘A’.
KRL head coach Tariq Lutfi, whose side became the first side from Pakistan to reach a final of a continental club competition when they lost 1-0 to Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC last year, was satisfied with the draw.
“With all of the teams being from South Asia, we all have a matching standard,” Lutfi told Dawn on Friday.
“We’re the most experienced side in the draw as it is for the third straight year we’ll be playing in the President’s Cup and it’s vital for us to maintain our supremacy.”
This season’s President’s Cup the final edition of the tournament before teams from Asia’s ‘emerging countries’ will play regional playoffs for qualification into the AFC Cup — the continent’s second-tier competition — from next year.
The teams which advance from the group stage this season will automatically be in contention for a place in the AFC Cup and Lutfi says it’s vital for his team to play to their best ability and ensure that.
“We have to try our best to advance and right now we’re in a rebuilding phase after the departures of our two star players [striker Kaleemullah and winger Mohammad Adil to Kyrgyz giants FC Dordoi],” Lutfi added.
“But I think we’ll be up to the mark.”
The top two sides from the two four-team groups and one three-team group will advance to the final stage. The group stage will run from May 1-11 with Sri Lanka Air Force SC hosting Group ‘A’.
Group ‘B’ will be played out in the Philippines with hosts PFF-Smart National Championship winners Ceres, Turkmenistan’s FC HTTU, North Korea League champions Rimyongsu and Taiwanese Intercity Football League winners Tatung in action.
Mongolia Premier League champions Erchim FC host the tree-team Group ‘C’ which also has Svayrieng, the Cambodian League winners and Nepal’s Martyr Memorial A-Division League champions Manang Marshyangdi.