KARACHI, Oct 28: A month on from becoming the first team from the country to reach the final of a continental competition, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) begin the defence of their Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) title eyeing another first.
Tariq Lutfi’s outfit are looking for an unprecedented third straight domestic crown and start their campaign against an unbeaten Wapda side at the KPT Stadium here on Tuesday.
“It will be difficult to win it for a third straight year,” Lutfi told Dawn. “We’ve been dominant over the last two seasons so it is important that the players don’t lose their hunger and motivation.”
But the KRL players come into the season on the back of a superb performance last month in the AFC President’s Cup — Asia’s third-tier club competition — where they were losing finalists.
“We’re really motivated to seal a hat-trick of titles,” KRL captain Samar Ishaq told Dawn.
“We know it won’t be easy but we’re well-prepared to repeat the performances we’ve been showing for the last two seasons,” the centre-back added.
His defensive partner Kamran Khan is also gearing up for a season where he believes many teams would be looking to steal their crown.
“The other teams in the league always want to beat us and they have bolstered their ranks,” he said. “Our first few games will really set the tone for the season.”
And they don’t come harder than their opener where the three-time winners face four-time champions Wapda in a mouth-watering clash.
In the nine previous editions of the PPFL, there have been just three winners with Army taking the other two titles. But no team has managed to stamp their authority for three consecutive years.
KRL have won the last two editions with their other title coming in 2009. Wapada won the title in 2010 having also managed to win twice on the trot in 2007 and 2008.
Army’s two titles came in back-to-back seasons (2005 and 2006) with Wapda winning the inaugural edition in 2004.
“Completing a hat-trick of titles is no easy task,” Lutfi says. “For that you need a lot of consistency and a few bad results here or there can derail our hat-trick bid so there is no room for error.”
If Lutfi’s side manage to win the title, they will only be the fifth team in the South Asian region to win three successive domestic league crowns, joining the likes of Nepal Police Club, VB Addu FC, Abahani Limited and Transport United.
Transport United are the only team in the region to have won four consecutive titles. They dominated the Bhutan A-Division for that period from 2004 to 2007.
Abahani won the Bangladesh Premier League thrice from 2007 to 2009 while Maldives’ VB Addu FC won the Dhevehi League three times from 2009 to 2011.
Nepal Police Club, meanwhile, were the region’s latest winners of three successive titles when they were the top team in the Martyr Memorial A-Division from 2010 to 2012.
In the President’s Cup over the last two years, KRL have met some of Asia’s other three consecutive domestic title-holders.
They played Taiwanese Power Company, winners of the Inter-city Football League from 2010 to 2012, in the 2012 edition of the tournament before squaring off with Dordoi Bishkek, winners of the Kyrgyzstan League six times on the trot from 2004 to 2009, in this year’s tournament.
In the final, they lost 1-0 to Turkmenistan’s Balkan FC, winners of the Yokary Liga from 2010 to 2012.
For KRL winger Mohammad Adil playing against such teams inspires him to raise the standard of his own team on the domestic front.
“All these teams have a legacy of domestic domination,” he told Dawn. “I want to help KRL start their own legacy of this sort.”
With KRL fulfilling their President’s Cup commitments, other teams have already began their PPFL campaigns this season.
The champions enter the fray with last season’s runner-up Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) leading the standings with 25 points from 11 games after a 4-0 thrashing of Baloch FC on Monday.
Striker Mohammad Rasool scored a second-half double for KESC, finding the back of the net in the 57th and 79th minutes after Mohammad Musa had given them the lead at the KMC Stadium two minutes before half-time and playmaker Mohammad Riaz had doubled it in the 51st.
Karachi Port Trust (KPT) took second spot in the standings, seven points behind KESC having played a game more, after beating Layllpur FC 3-1 with goals by Mohammad Jalil, Naveed and Mohammad Bin Younis.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) also won on Monday, edging Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) 2-1 at the Korangi Baloch Football Ground to move to 14 points from 10 games.