Road to 2019 AFC Cup

Road to 2019 AFC Cup

By Usama Mushtaq Bhutta

After Pakistan football team had participated in 2018 Asian Games and 2018 SAFF Cup, organizing 2018-19 season of Pakistan Premier League was already on Pakistan Football Federation’s radar. The country’s top tier returned to action for the very first time after 4 years on September 25 since the league’s 2014-15 season. K Electric FC are the defending champions.

Despite PFF increased the number of teams from 12 to 16 in the following season of the campaign, football fans country wide are engaged with very less positivity. Not televising the event on any platform, no home and away matches, no city or franchise based clubs and hosting the matches just across 3 cities in Pakistan are the facts that stamp a big question mark on PFF’s competence. Moreover, PIA FC hasn’t been able to participate in the current league due to lack of funds and it is the last nail in the coffin of PFF’s planning for country’s domestic structure.

All demerits aside, the good news for fans is that AFC has allocated a spot for 2018-19 Premier League champions in 2019 AFC Cup’s preliminary round 1. One club each from Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Guam, Macau, Mongolia and Chinese Taipei will also be competing in this round. 5 clubs will advance to preliminary round 2 and battle with other clubs for a spot in play-off round. The winners of play-off round will then qualify for the group stage of 2019 season of the annual competition. Another silver lining for Pakistani fans is that all the aforementioned qualifying rounds are two legged i.e. one home and one away. Hence, in February 2019, we may see an Asian club making its tour to the land of five rivers to confront against the champions of the country.

Any Pakistani club will be taking part in AFC Cup after 3 years after K Electric FC took part in the Asia’s second-tier club competition in 2016 and gave a huge surprise by going through the qualifying round of the event. The former drew against Druk United (Bhutanese club) by 3-3 at their home and ultimately defeated Khoromkhon (Mongolian club) by 1-0 by getting the winner in 74th minute of the game. The only step which, then, restricted K Electric FC to become the first Pakistani club to qualify for group stage of AFC Cup since 1992 was a single match against Al Hidd (Bahraini club) in the competition’s play-off round at the latter’s home. Unfortunately, Pakistani champions were defeated by a scoreline of 2-0 in that match.