KRL begin AFC President’s Cup campaign tomorrow

The 2011 Pakistan Premier Football League champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) begin their AFC President’s Cup 2012 final round campaign against defending champions Taiwan Power Company tomorrow, 26 September, at Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan for Group B.

KRL had previously faced Taipower in the President’s Cup qualifiers hosted back in May 2012 at Punjab Stadium, Lahore and the cagey affair finished 0-0 to allow KRL to pip Mongolian side Erchim FC for the final round.

KRL’s start in the current 2012 Pakistan Premier League season has been impressive with 4 wins out of 6 games as they lie with 14 points in 3rd place with plenty of games in hand due to their President’s Cup campaign. Under talismanic captain, the Faisalabad defender Samar Ishaq, and coached by the veteran Tariq Lutfi, KRL have shown optimism towards landing an Asian club trophy for the first time in Pakistani football history.

With Taiwan Power struggling to a 1-1 draw against Palestinian side Markaz Shabab Al-Am’ari in the opening fixture of Group B final round, KRL believe they can pip the defending champions tomorrow. With 2 groups of 3 teams each, only the group winners qualify for the final on 30 September.

The last year’s runners-up Phnom Penh Crown of Cambodia have been placed in Group A with Tajikistan’s Istiklol FC and the six-time finalists Dordoi Dynamo of Kyrgyzstan. Dordoi had been the winners in 2006 and 2007. In fact, home side Istiklol have already beaten Dordoi 2-0 in their opening game on 24 September.

Having played them previously, they came close to winning in Lahore but KRL’s poor finishing let them down badly in the qualifiers.

Poor finishing in front of goal has been the main bone of contention towards Pakistani sides in football, and despite KRL’s 2012 National Football Challenge Cup win earlier this year and their bright PPL start, their conversion rate has been questionable. The much fancied Chaman star Kaleemullah, former PIA forward Saddam Hussain, old KRL stalwart Muhammad Qasim, and hard-working winger Muhammad Rizwan Asif have faced trouble finding the back of the net in such crunch ties.

Plus, before KRL’s 24-man squad departed for Tajikistan, concerns were shown by coach Tariq Lutfi when he spoke to the press highlighting some injury niggles faced by Kaleemullah and Saddam, as well as his side’s poor form in front of goal.

However, that hasn’t dampened his hopes of a positive result. KRL’s main strength with undoubtedly be their defence marshalled by captain Samar Ishaq and Kamran Khan, with the impressive Saqib Hanif in goal. The side will also look for the flair of Yasir Afridi, passing game of Mehmood Khan, and resilience of Muhammad Adil in KRL’s midfield.

But it all depends if KRL’s forward line can create enough chances to allow its misfiring forwards to score against 2011 AFC President’s Cup champions Taiwan Power Company. KRL had previously played in the 2010 AFC President’s Cup where they failed to go past the Group stage.

Squad: Samar Ishaq (captain), Kamran Khan (vice-captain), Saqib Hanif, Shahid Nabi, Tanvir Mumtaz (all three goalkeepers), Mehmood Khan, Dilwar-ur-Rehman, Ahsanullah, Zeeshan, Mohammad Abid, Yasir Afridi, Mohammad Adil, Zia-us-Salam, Mohammad Qasim, Hasnain Abbas, Kaleemullah, Saadullah, Saddam Hussain, Rizwan Asif.
Officials: Tariq Lutfi (head coach), Sajjad Mehmood (assistant coach), Ayaz Butt (manager), Mohammad Ali (media officer), Mohammad Shahid (physiotherapist).