Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI, Nov 19: Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) could be fighting for a place in next season’s AFC Cup if the Asian Football Confederation decides at the Executive Committee meeting next Tuesday to increase the slots for more member countries in its marquee competition, the AFC Champions League.
Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions KRL, looking to clinch a third-straight domestic title this season, were the losing finalists in this season’s AFC President’s Cup — the continent’s third-tier club competition.
PPFL champions earn a slot in the President’s Cup but with the AFC deciding to revamp its club football structure, they might as well move into the second-tier competition — the AFC Cup.
Two weeks on from the most-viewed AFC Champions League final in history — which saw Guangzhou Evergrande become the first Chinese side to lift the continent’s showpiece, the AFC Ex Co will give its final say on the Competitions Committee’s proposal of including clubs from its top 23 members in the continent’s flagship competition from next season.
In last season’s Champions League, clubs from the continent’s top 14 member associations were represented.
Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president Faisal Saleh Hayat would be at the next week’s meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
“The AFC is looking at making the Champions League more popular and it is looking at opening it up for top clubs across the continent,” Faisal, who is part of AFC’s Legal Committee, told Dawn on Tuesday.
“All these things will be finalised at the Ex Co meeting next week and AFC vice-president Yousuf Al-Serkal [who also heads the Competitions Committee] will present his case to open the doors of the Champions League to more AFC members.”
Al-Serkal is looking to give teams from 13 member associations below the top 10 a chance to feature in the competition’s qualifying playoffs.
If the AFC Ex Co approves the expansion of the Champions League, that will result in a reshuffle in the AFC Cup as well, with entries likely to be increased.
If the AFC Cup base is widened to include the continent’s top 37 member associations, the Pakistan champions would get a chance to feature in the qualifying playoffs.
Pakistan are currently ranked 37th in Asia and 168th in the world.
However, Pakistan will have to finalise its representative by Dec 31. But with this season’s PPFL running beyond that, the country’s champions wouldn’t be decided by that time.
“In that scenario, KRL will represent Pakistan,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn on Tuesday. “Because they are the reigning champions for the last two years, it is justified that they are given the chance to enter the AFC Cup.”
Lodhi added it is only normal for KRL to take part because that’s how Asian football works.
“There are several cases in which AFC competitions start in between the domestic league season and therefore there is no other option than to enter previous season’s champions.”
KRL head-coach Tariq Lutfi welcomed the possibility of his side playing in the AFC Cup.
“It will be a dream come true for us,” Lutfi told Dawn on Tuesday. “I’ve been saying for a long time that the top performers in the AFC President’s Cup get a chance to play in the AFC Cup.
“We were losing finalists this year so I think it would only be right if we were to participate in the AFC Cup.”