K-Electric ‘geared up’ to reach AFC Cup play-offsArchive
KARACHI: Having made an impact locally, K-Electric are now looking to make a splash on the continental level.
The Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) champions embark on their quest to make it to the playoffs for next year’s AFC Cup when they play the first match of their Group ‘A’ qualifier against Bhutan’s Druk United in Thimpu on Tuesday.
Their Asian tilt comes after years of investment on the team which finally clinched their maiden PPFL title last year and as they make their first appearance on the continent, they aren’t there just to make up the numbers in the qualifiers for the playoff of Asia’s second-tier club competition.
Majid Shafiq’s side are looking to prolong their Asian adventure by winning their Group and advancing to the playoffs.
But it won’t be an easy ride against the hosts Druk United, who are buoyed by Bhutan’s recent rise as a footballing nation, and Mongolia’s Khoromkhon — the other team in the section who have recently made some big signings recently.
K-Electric too have bolstered their side with the signings of England-based Pakistanis Shani Abbasi and Irfan Khan while appointing UEFA ‘A’ licenced coach Majid for the AFC Cup playoff qualifiers.
“Druk United have home advantage and they’re buoyed by Bhutan’s historic qualification to the second round of the 2018 World Cup qualifying,” Majid told Dawn from Thimpu on Monday.
While Pakistan fell in the first-round playoffs for the World Cup in Russia when they fell to Yemen, the Bhutanese created history as the world’s worst-ranked nation to stun Sri Lanka and advance to the group stage.
Their euphoria has since been humbled somehow with heavy defeats to China and Hong Kong since but Majid believes that playing against Asia’s top sides is an experience in itself.
“It adds to the players’ experience but we have the confidence we gained from our last three practice matches [during the camp in Karachi], and we are geared up for the challenge,” he said.
K-Electric’s Nigerian stars Oludeyi Abayomi Sunday and Wilson Obuyani were unable to attend the camp in Karachi but have joined the team in Bhutan and Majid believes the duo is key to his team’s chances.
“Both of them are key to controlling the tempo of the game and are capable of changing gears [from defence to attack] very quickly and that is crucial for us,” he added.
HOSTS’ HIGH HOPES
Druk United have no such marquee foreign imports but their manager Tara Bir Rai is hoping Bhutan’s exploits in World Cup qualifiers will rub off on the Bhutanese champions.
“The national league and the World Cup qualifiers have helped the players stay in form,” Bir Rai told Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel.
“Football in Bhutan has achieved enormous success in recent years. And clubs will help promote the game in the coming years. I’m confident with my club and we’re hopeful of winning this group and qualifying into the next round.
“We’re all set to take on K-Electric,” added the coach whose side will play Khromkhon in their second and final Group ‘A’ match on Saturday.
Khromkhon begin their campaign against K-Electric on Thursday and the Mongolian champions have good experience in their ranks having signed Slovenian goalkeeper Uroš Poljanec and Guam’s Jonahan Romero.
Romero has been part of Guam’s sensational start to World Cup qualifying where they top their section which includes Asian heavyweights Iran, Oman, India and Turkmenistan with two wins from two while Poljanec is a youth product of NK Maribor who featured in last season’s UEFA Champions League.
“We’ve seen the other teams and know their potential,” Khoromkhon’s head coach S. Purevsukn said, according to Mongolian media. “Playing on an artificial turf [at Druk United’s Changlimithang Stadium] could be a bit tricky but I hope we’ll cope with it.”
Meanwhile, Group ‘B’ of the playoff qualifiers will start simultaneously in Kyrgyzstan with hosts Alga FC competing with Bangladesh’s Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club Limited and Casa Benfica of Macau.
The winners of both groups advance to the playoffs and Sheikh Jamal, like K-Electric, are looking to reach the AFC Cup playoffs.
“Our only target is to qualify for the playoffs,” Sheikh Jamal captain Mamunul Islam told Bangladeshi media before their departure for Bishkek.
“This is the first time we are going to play in the AFC Cup and we’re very hopeful about the tournament since we’ve performed well throughout the season.”
If K-Electric and Sheikh Jamal do advance, there could be possible South Asian opposition lying in wait with Indian side Bengaluru FC having direct entry to the playoffs along with this year’s Cup winners from the Maldives.
Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2015
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