Pakistan champions set for AFC Cup boost [DAWN]

Pakistan champions set for AFC Cup boost [DAWN]

Umaid Wasim – DAWN

KARACHI, Nov 25: When the AFC Executive Committee meets in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday the decisions taken there will have great ramifications for the team which eventually wins this year’s Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL).

Earlier this year, when two-time PPFL defending champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) reached the final of the AFC President’s Cup — the continent’s third-tier club competition, head-coach Tariq Lutfi lamented the lack of a system of promotion in Asian football.

“Until and unless there is a system of teams progressing from one-tier [of competition] to another, football in Asia won’t grow,” he had told Dawn.

Seems like Lutfi’s plea, and of many other coaches of teams participating in the President’s Cup, has been heard.

The AFC Competitions Committee met on Monday, ahead of the Ex Co meeting, recommended that the six teams which qualify for the 2014 AFC President’s Cup final stage will take part in the playoffs for the AFC Cup, Asia’s second-tier club competition, from 2015 onwards.

The committee, chaired by AFC vice-president Yousuf Al-Serkal, who is also the president of the UAE Football Association, also proposed that the 2014 AFC President’s Cup will be the last edition of the tournament and that centralised qualifiers would be held to decide teams for AFC Cup playoffs from then.

If that proposal is passed by the Ex Co meeting chaired by AFC chief Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa on Tuesday, ahead of Asia’s football governing body’s annual award distribution ceremony, it will see Asia’s club football structure mirroring that of its European counterparts UEFA.

The UEFA Champions League is Europe’s marquee tournament — just like the AFC Champions League in Asia — with the Europa League its second-tier event.

Changes in the AFC Champions League format have also been proposed.

The competition’s committee is looking at expanding the Champions League to include participation from more member associations in wake of the successful 2013 campaign.

AFC’s commercial partner World Sport Group claimed last season’s Champions League, which was won by Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande, achieved a combined average rating of 280 million, with a combined reach of 1.37 billion viewers.

“If the AFC Champions League is opened up to more associations, it would benefit football in the continent as a whole,” Pakistan international defender Zesh Rehman, who plays for Hong Kong side Kitchee, told Dawn earlier this year.

The AFC Cup, meanwhile, was also slated for an expansion for next season’s competition with member associations outside the top 23 in Asia’s grading system allowed to apply for a position.

No side from Pakistan applied for a position in next season’s tournament.

However, if the AFC Ex Co approves the competitions committee proposal on Tuesday, PPFL champions won’t have to wait longer to take part in the AFC Cup.

KRL are looking to seal an unprecedented hat-trick of PPFL titles this season as they look to build upon their continental exploits this season.

However, it is Muslim FC who lead the standings with 36 points from 19 matches after beating Pakistan Navy 3-1 here on Monday.

First half goals by Amanuddin, Saeed-ur-Rehman and Hayatullah at the KPT Stadium helped the Chaman side extend their lead at the top to four points ahead of second-placed Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC), who have player four games less.

KRL, who play National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) on Tuesday, have 18 points although they have played just eight games so far.