Monday, February 22, 2016


JDT Begin AFC Cup Defence

Group E - Tampines Rovers, Selangor, Ceres, Dhanmondi
Group F - Balestier Khalsa, Kitchee, New Radiant, Kaya
Group H - Johor Darul Tazim, Bengalaru, Lao Toyota, Ayeyawady

AFC Cup winners' JDT's failure to overcome Muang Thong United in the AFC Champions' League Play Off means they get a chance to regain their title and to do so they must overcome a familiar foe.

They of course met Bengaluru last year in another ACL preliminary and although they won that game they were later knocked out by Bangkok Glass, the Thai hoodoo again, and were consigned to the AFC Cup.

A year older and with a year's more experience under their belt, not to mention the underlying ambition to pit themselves against Asia's best, will mean JDT won't be taking this competition as an inconvenience.

Back to back winners of the Malaysia Super League, JDT have begun the new season in a confident manner, drawing 1-1 in their opening game against (but lifting the Charity Shield after defeating the Red Giants on penalties) before picking up three points away to T Team. On Friday they thumped second tier UiTM 5-0 in the FA Cup.

Bengaluru have ambitions of emulating JDT in India. Coached by Ashley Westwood they won the I League in their debut season and finished second last time time round while lifting the Federation Cup. With the experienced Sunil Chhetri, the Indian captain had a spell in the US with Kansas City Wizards, providing know how and guile and former Northampton Town defender John Johnson at the heart of the defence, The Blues will be looking to kick on this time around and will be hoping former Republic of Ireland Under 21 international Michael Collins can add some experience in the middle of the park.

While Bengaluru maybe considered the toughest opponent in the group for the Malaysian champions, they will not be underestimating Ayeyawady from Myanmar. Perhaps little known beyond their own borders, they did meet in last season's Round of 16 with JDT winning 5-0 but Ayeyawady are becoming a regular fixture in the AFC Cup and qualified from their group last year for the first time in their history though the disqualification of Persib may have helped!

Lao Toyota may have finished bottom of their group last year but drew their three home games and kept their away losses to the narrowest of margins.

Balestier Khalsa impressed many last season when they were challengers for the SLeague for most of the campaign. Their reward is a return to the AFC Cup for the second successive year. Last year they were drawn with JDT, Kitchee and East Bengal but failed to make much of an impression, winning just once against East Bengal and losing the rest of their games to finish bottom.

With coach Marko Kraljevic in charge for a third season Balestier are slowly changing perceptions of being an also ran club in Singapore. In 2013, under Darren Stewart, they lifted their first ever trophy, the League Cup and they followed that success with the Singapore Cup in 2014. Add to that a fourth place finish in the SLeague last season as well as runners' up in the League Cup and these are heady days for the Toa Payoh side though doubts linger whether they have the strength in depth to handle four competitions in the long year ahead.

Group E throws up the tantalising prospect of Tampines Rovers v Selangor and with no disrespect to their Bangladeshi and Filippino rivals fans of both sides will be eagerly awaiting these clashes. The Stags, reinvigorated by the arrival of Jermaine Pennant will be going up against Malaysia's fallen giant who last season lifted the Malaysia Cup for the first time in a decade. The last years have not been kind to the Red Giants as they have sees success spread around the country and new money in the form of JDT and Pahang usurp their place at the top of the pile, But their support will be hoping the Malaysia Cup triumph will be the spark that brings in a new era of glory.

23/02 - Tampines Rovers v Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi, Ceres v Selangor, New Radiant v Balestier Khalsa
24/02 - JDT v Ayeyawady

UPDATE - It seems fans are excited about the start of Asian club competition with Kaya saying their match against Singaporean side Balestier Khalsa is a sell out and Dhanmondi's allocation for their game in Singapore against Tampines have all gone as well. Let us hope in the latter case there are more Stags fans then away fans!

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