Tampines Rovers coach Gavin Lee relishes tough Champions League draw
Tampines' AFC Champions League group-stage debut will see them face Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Gamba Osaka and Sydney
Tampines Rovers may have been handed a tough Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League draw yesterday, but coach Gavin Lee said his side are looking to rise to the challenge as they make their group-stage debut.
The Stags are in Group H, alongside K-League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, A-League champions Sydney and J-League runners-up Gamba Osaka.
"It is an exciting group and the pedigree of the opponents motivates us even more," Lee told The New Paper.
"We want to play on the biggest stage, so we have to play the best teams and it comes no better than playing other leagues' champions. We are going to play our best and we want to be able to play our (brand of) football as much as we can."
The AFC Champions League will feature 40 teams - up from 32 - for the first time and the group stage will be contested in centralised locations, which are yet to be finalised.
Tampines will play in the East Zone group stage from April 21-May 7, with knockout stages running through September and October, before a double-legged final on Nov 21 and 27.
The AFC Cup draw was also revealed yesterday in Kuala Lumpur, with SPL sides Lion City Sailors and Geylang International placed in Group H and I respectively.
The Sailors will face Malaysian Super League (MSL) runners-up Kedah, who are managed by former Home United coach Aidil Sharin, as well as Vietnam's Saigon and a play-off winner.
Indonesia's Persipura Jayapura will face the winners of the clash between Visakha (Cambodia) and Lalenok United (Timor-Leste) for the final spot in Group H.
Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar rated his group as the toughest and expects an absorbing meeting with Kedah, who also have Singaporean midfielder M. Anumanthan in their ranks.
"We are in the hardest group, but that is a good challenge for us," said Vidmar who led Adelaide United to the 2008 AFC Champions League final.
"Aidil will know Singapore football and our club intimately, as much as we know about Kedah and their coach. So it will make for a fascinating game and I'm sure everyone is looking forward to that game."
Aidil, who guided Home to the 2018 AFC Cup Asean Zone title, added: "I had a feeling we would be drawn with Sailors, it would be good to meet my former players and staff.
"That said, the Sailors have the advantage with the national team players they have and their marquee $3 million signing (Diego Lopes)."
Over in Group I, the Eagles will take on MSL side Terengganu, the Philippines' Kaya FC-Iloilo and Myanmar's Shan United or Ayeyawady United.
Geylang coach Noor Ali singled out Terengganu as their stiffest challenge based on last season's performances, but still backs his side to make the zonal semi-finals, at least.
Teams in the Asean Zone will play the group stage - single match, round-robin format - from June 22-28 before single-legged semi-finals on Aug 10 and 11. The Asean Zonal final has been pencilled in for Aug 25, while the AFC Cup final will take place on Nov 26.
With the AFC Cup group-stage matches also taking place at centralised locations, teams flying in will also have to cope with periods of quarantine before they are allowed to train and play.
"We know that the quarantine is there for good reasons, so we are just waiting for updates," said Lee.
Added Noor Ali: "It is a very big concern, especially if the SPL is carrying on at the same time. There will be issues like fitness so, hopefully, we can work out something that is beneficial to all parties."