Umaid Wasim – DAWN
KARACHI, Sept 27: Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) have achieved the unprecedented. The Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions became the first team from the country to reach the finals of a continental event when they defeated Palestinian side Hilal Al-Quds 2-0 at the Hang Jebat Stadium on Friday to reach the showpiece of the AFC President’s Cup.
“This is a huge achievement for Pakistan football,” KRL head coach Tariq Lutfi told Dawn after their Group ‘B’ match in the Malaysian state of Malacca. “I would like to dedicate this victory to Pakistan football. This day has come after a lot of untiring efforts by the boys.
“We never let our heads down despite the fact that the goals we needed didn’t come early. We kept pushing, probing at them and I’m proud of the fact that we took our chances well when they came.”
They indeed came very late.
KRL went into their final Group ‘B’ tie level on points with Hilal Al-Quds but behind them on goals scored.
While KRL had beaten two-time champions Dordoi Bishkek 1-0 in their opener, Hilal Al Quds were coming off a 3-2 victory against the Kyrgyz champions.
It meant the Palestinians could afford a draw.
But after trying in vain for 77 minute, the vital goal for KRL came in the 77th minute through the prolific Kaleemullah before their wing wizard Mohammad Adil wrapped up the win three minutes into added time as they set up a final against Turkmenistan champions Balkan FC.
Like KRL, Balkan finished top of Group ‘A’ with a perfect record as they whipped Mongolian title-holders Erchim FC 4-0 on Friday.
It was a fairytale story for the Turkmenistan side who finished bottom of the preliminary group stage last season.
“It will be a good match against a side who have improved a lot since last year,” Lutfi said referring to Sunday’s final. “Hopefully, the boys will play to their best like they did today.”
KRL started the game at a frenetic pace with striker Mohammad Rizwan Asif, who missed last season’s PPFL with a lengthy injury, beating goalkeeper Mohammed Aburoumi in the 35th minute but then losing control with the goal at his mercy.
KRL goalkeeper Saqib Hanif then managed to pull off two smart saves either side of half-time as the game remained goalless until the hour mark.But then Kaleemullah took the centre-stage, controlling a pass from Adil and arrowing a left footed shot that rippled the Al Quds goal to take his tally to seven goals in the competition, two behind top-scorer Mirlan Murzaev.
Hilal Al-Quds rallied, striking the woodwork twice off two corners but as they went in search for the leveller, they left spaces at the back and Adil exploited that.
Receiving the ball on half-line after a quick breakaway, the tenacious winger went past two defenders before finishing with aplomb to put the tie to bed and KRL into the final.