by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: They were part of the first team from Pakistan that made the final of the AFC President’s Cup and now midfielders Saddam Hussain and Mehmood Khan are hoping to help K-Electric become the first team from the country to reach the AFC Cup.
In 2013, Saddam and Mehmood were at each end of Khan Research Laboratories’ (KRL) midfield pivot as they created history by reaching the final of the AFC President’s Cup, which was then the continent’s third-tier club competition.
The duo had helped KRL hold Balkan FK for 87 minutes until the Turkmens struck, denying them a chance to become the first side from Pakistan to win an Asian competition.
“That hurt because we were so close,” Saddam told Dawn on Tuesday, a day after finalising his move to K-Electric.
They did create some history — “an unwanted one”, as Mehmood says — by becoming the first side from the country to reach the final of a continental tournament.
“No one remembers the runners-ups … it’s always the winners who are remembered,” Mehmood told Dawn on Tuesday.
In an odd twist of fate, though, the first competitive match Mehmood and Saddam play for their new side K-Electric, they will get a chance to atone for that Asian heartbreak with KRL.
“It will definitely give us an opportunity to exorcise those demons of being so close yet being so far,” the duo said at the send-off ceremony for the K-Electric team for their AFC Cup playoff against Bahrain’s Al Hidd on Feb 9.
Three years ago, the President’s Cup was Asia’s third-tier club event, behind the marquee AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup.
Later that year, the AFC announced that it was going to abolish the tournament, merging the tournament
into the AFC Cup as its qualifying playoff with the 2014 edition being its last.
Saddam and Mehmood were again part of the KRL team which took part in the final edition of the President’s Cup but this time they fell at the first hurdle.
“It’s a fantastic experience to play in Asian club competitions,” Mehmood said. “As a player, you want to play in those big matches.”
As players from that KRL team — which had won three successive Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) titles from 2011-13 — went for newer pastures, K-Electric wrested away the domestic league title.
A part of that KRL exodus was Saddam, who along with winger Mohammad Adil and striker Kaleemullah, went to Kyrgyz giants Dordoi Bishkek.
Mehmood stayed behind, watching K-Electric win their maiden PPFL title last season and although KRL showed their resurgence by winning the National Challenge Cup last year, the lure of playing in Asia took him to K-Electric last month.
“It was a difficult decision to leave KRL as it was the team that made me the player I am today,” said Mehmood, who was joined at his new side by his brother Dawood, also from KRL.
Saddam came via Bahrain, where he played for second-division side Isa Town FC — the side he joined last year — and he hopes his knowledge of Al Hidd would help K-Electric.
“I’ve seen them [Al Hidd] first hand and I believe we can advance to the AFC Cup,” he said. “As a player, you want to play in the top competitions and the AFC Cup has a lot of appeal for me.”
On the administrative side, K-Electric have undergone a massive overhaul since they booked their playoff spot by winning their qualifying playoffs in August.
Sports head Zabe Khan has since left while England-based Majid Shafiq, who coached the team during the qualifying playoffs in Bhutan, decided not to extend his stint with the side.
But winger Mohammad Riaz believes that it’s what happens on the pitch that matters as he hailed the addition of Mehmood, Dawood and Saddam.
“They have good amount of Asian experience since they played in three editions of the President’s Cup and that will be vital for us against Al Hidd,” Riaz told Dawn on Tuesday.
“I’ve played with Mehmood and Saddam in the national team and I don’t think that it will be a problem for us to play together. We very well know the strengths and weaknesses of each other.”
K-Electric head coach Hasan Baloch said he believes his team can upset the odds in Bahrain.
“We’ve got a big chance for us to create history,” he said. “You don’t get these chances too often in your career.”
It’s a chance Saddam and Mehmood want to grab with both hands.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2016