Last season's treble winners Sheikh Russel KC will fly to Colombo today to participate in the AFC President's Cup with the hope of becoming the first Bangladeshi club to reach the final round of Asia's third-tier club competition, which will be scrapped after this year.
Sheikh Russel, who are participating by dint of becoming the Bangladesh Premier League champions last season, will be the second Bangladeshi club to make their debut in the competition after Abahani, who played five times in the tournament and failed every time to make it to the second round.
The treble-winners are not in a comfortable position at the moment, having already relinquished both the Federation Cup and Independence Cup titles and languishing in fifth position in the Bangladesh Premier League table. They have a new coach in Montenegrin Dragan Djukanovic, who joined on April 19 after last season's successful coach Maruful Haque was unceremoniously sacked for the club's poor performance. Under Djukanovic, Sheikh Russel have played two matches, losing one and drawing the other. However, the Montenegrin tried to put on a brave face during the press conference arranged at the BFF House yesterday to announce Sheikh Russel's tournament participation.
“In the league, I had little time to change things. But now things are different and our target is to win the tournament. I believe in local players. We must make use of the available players that we have and we must have success with them,” said Montenegrin, who will take midfielders Pascal Millien of Haiti and Ivan Kurtusic of Serbia as the two foreigners in the squad of 20.
Sheikh Russel -- who have been pitted in Group A alongside with last edition's runners-up KRL (Khan Research Laboratories) Academy of Pakistan, debutantes Sri Lanka Air Force SC and Ugyen Academy of Bhutan -- are hoping that the knowledge about teams of the South Asian region will serve them well in the competition.
“We are in a better position compared to the opposition teams. We have info about Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Our football is in much better shape than those countries,” said Sheikh Russel goalkeeper and captain Bilpob Bhattacharjee, who has played four times in the tournament so far.
However, there will be two qualifiers for the next round from each group this time instead of one previously, which gives Sheikh Russel some hope of making it through.
Sheikh Russel will begin their campaign with the game against KRL FC on May 7 before taking on Sri Lanka Air Force SC on May 9 and Ugyen Academy on May 11 -- all at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo.