Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI: Despite the AFC President’s Cup having become a graveyard for Asia’s ‘emerging’ countries, the tournament is nonetheless is providing Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) with a shot at continental glory.
The Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions learnt their fate in the final stage of Asia’s third-tier club tournament after the draw took place in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
“It is unfortunate that the tournament is in its ninth edition but still it isn’t offering a chance for teams to grow,” KRL head coach Tariq Lutfi, whose side have been bracketed with Kyrgyzstan title-holders Dordoi Bishkek and Palestinian champions Hilal Al-Quds in Group ‘B’, told Dawn on Wednesday.
By growth, Lutfi refers to the fact that the participating teams have no real incentive to win the tournament except for the prize money that comes along with it.
“The champions of the tournament should at least get a chance to compete in the qualifiers of the second and top-tier tournaments in Asia — AFC Cup and AFC Champions League respectively,” he added.
“That will help teams from the emerging Asian countries a chance to get more exposure and a real incentive to win the President’s Cup.”
The AFC Cup and the AFC President’s Cup were created in 2005 after the Champions League was restricted to teams from the continent’s top 14 ‘mature’ nations.
Teams from the ‘emerging’ countries get a chance to feature in the President’s Cup while the ones from the ‘developing’ nations play in the AFC Cup.
Since then, however, there has been no system on promotion or relegation between the tournaments. There has been some movement between the countries considered as ‘mature’ and ‘developing’ but that has been largely negligible.According to Lutfi, if the clubs from the ‘emerging’ countries don’t get a chance to compete at the higher levels, there would be no improvement in football standards.
“There needs to be a system in which teams get a chance to compete at higher levels,” he said. “There should be some movement from top to bottom and bottom to top so that an imbalance isn’t created.”
The imbalance is already there.
In 2010, the pool of ‘emerging’ countries increased to 20 after teams from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Turkmenistan were pushed out from the AFC Cup to the President’s Cup.
Is Asia’s club football — and relative to that, international football — moving backwards?
Europe’s football governing body UEFA, earlier this year, decided to let winners of the Europa League — the continent’s second tier-tournament — from 2014 move into its elite Champions League.
That move has raised the profile of the Europa League and with the prize at stake; it is sure to increase competitiveness in the competition and with more competition will come more exposure.
For the time being, though, Lutfi’s charges will be hoping they do well at the President’s Cup.
In the preliminary group stage, KRL played out a 1-1 draw against Dordoi en route to their progression to the finals stage. “We have played against them so we do have an idea of how to attack them,” Lutfi said about the two-time champions.
Hilal Al-Quds, however could be a surprise package.
“It is about winning the first match and then hoping to play well in the other to advance to the final,” the former Pakistan coach added.
Last season KRL reached the final round of the event before being knocked out after two consecutive defeats.
Group ‘A’ meanwhile will see Turkmenistan champions Balkan FC, Mongolian side Erchim FC and Nepalese title-holders Three Star Club fight it out for the top spot in the group.
The top two teams from each of the two groups advance to the final.
The final round of the tournaments begins from September 23 with Three Star Club taking on Balkan and KRL facing Dordoi. The venue of the final round is yet to be decided.
Group ‘A’: Balkan FC (Turkmenistan), Erchim FC (Mongolia), Three Star Club (Nepal)
Group ‘B’: Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), Dordoi Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Hilal Al-Quds (Palestine).