By Umaid Wasim,
KARACHI: K-Electric won’t be playing just one home and away play-off to reach the group stage of the AFC Cup next year but they will need to win three games against different opponents to reach the tournament proper, Asia’s football governing body said.
Having won Group ‘A’ of their playoff qualifiers in Thimpu last week, the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions will now need to negotiate two preliminary round games before the final playoff to advance to Asia’s second-tier club competition.
“K-Electric will participate in the AFC Cup competition from the Preliminary/Play-off Stage (knockout format with 3 stages) where there are two rounds of Preliminary Round (1 & 2) and play-off round before the actual group stage,” the AFC told Dawn in a statement on Thursday.
“Depending on the number of entries in the competition, the club will be drawn to play in the initial Preliminary Round 1 in a single match which they will most probably host and if they manage to register a win then they will move into Preliminary Round 2, wherein they will be up against a higher ranked opponent in a single match which will be played away.
“Subsequently if a positive result is obtained then they will participate in the play-off round against a higher ranked opponent in a single match from which the winner will qualify into the group stage of the competition.”
K-Electric were earlier hoping that they will play Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club of Bangladesh — who won Group ‘B’ of the AFC Cup play-off qualifiers — in a two-legged home and away tie to reach the group stage.
And the qualifying format has now left them admitting they need to be well-prepared if they are to become the first Pakistan team since Wohaib FC in 1992 to reach the group stage of an Asian competition.
Wohaib qualified for the 1992 Asian Club Championship — which has since been rebranded to the AFC Champions League which is the continent’s premier club tournament.
“We need to be well-prepared,” K-Electric’s Sports Head Zabe Khan told Dawn on Thursday. “We thought we only had to prepare for the games against the Bangladeshi side but now we’ll have to work our socks off to advance to the AFC Cup.”
Key to K-Electric’s preparations is the Sheikh Kamal International Club Championship which will be played in Bangladesh from October 17-30.
The Sheikh Kamal Championship will see three clubs from Bangladesh, two from India and one each from Pakistan, Nepal and the Maldives take part with K-Electric set to be the representatives from the country.
“It’s vital for us to take part in the tournament,” Zabe admitted. “It will really help the players to get further exposure of playing against the top sides and help the team gel for the AFC Cup preliminary/playoff stage.”
The preliminary stage for the AFC Cup will see eight teams from both West Asia and East Asia coming into the fray with the AFC having divided the teams according to two geographical zones.
The West Asia Zone will see Palestine Cup winners Ahli Al-Khalil competing with the yet-to-be-decided Tajik Cup winners, the runners-up of the Roshan Afghan Premier League and the Turkmenistan Cup winners.
From the East Zone, meanwhile, the sides will be Cup winners from Maldives, Laos, Philippines and North Korea with the playoff stage having also been divided on the same lines.
The playoff stage will then see teams from higher-ranked Asian countries join in divided along similar lines as in the preliminary stage.
If K-Electric go that far and enter the group stage, though, they will have to meet the AFC’s Club Licensing regulations to take part in the event.
Asian club competitions regularly see teams dropping out after failing to comply with those regulations but Zabe is confident that K-Electric will be able to meet those requirements.
“We’ll try our best,” he said. “We don’t want to drop out of a competition like that. It would destroy the hard work we’ve put in over the years to reach to this level.”
The licensing framework requires participating clubs to meet standards in key areas such as stadium safety, fan experience and youth football development.
K-Electric are already working on ensuring stadium safety and improved fan experience for the matches they will be hosting and Zabe said that Karachi’s Peoples Football Stadium is likely to be K-the team’s home venue for the AFC Cup.
The ground which has hosted several international games and has a capacity of 25,000, though hasn’t hosted matches of the PPFL for the last two seasons but Zabe is hopeful they will be able to have the stadium ready according to the standards required by the AFC.
“We’ll see what areas the stadium needs to improve on in order to host matches of the AFC Cup,” Zabe said. “K-Electric has organised the Lyari U-16 League there over the recent years so we do have an idea of what we need to do there.