Tampines Rovers relishing tough debut in AFC Champions League
Making their AFC Champions League debut, Stags can draw from the experience of veterans such as the 43-year-old Bennett
An opportunity to showcase themselves in Asia's premier club competition has arrived for Tampines Rovers, as they make their debut in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League's group stage.
The Stags will face some of the continent's top clubs at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, over the next fortnight.
|TAMPINES ROVERS||GAMBA OSAKA|
The Singapore side are drawn in Group H with two former Asian champions - Japan's Gamba Osaka and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea - with Thai club Chiangrai United completing the group.
Ahead of their dates with stellar opposition, Stags striker Boris Kopitovic and teammates are looking forward to giving a good account of themselves.
"We have trained all year and worked hard for these games," said the 26-year-old Montenegrin, who has scored 12 goals in this season's Singapore Premier League (SPL).
"This chance is given once in a lifetime and I think this club and the players deserve it."
The Stags will open their campaign tonight against Gamba, who were runners-up in the J1 League last season.
A daunting task awaits the young Singapore side, but they can draw from the experience of veterans such as Daniel Bennett.
The centre-back, 43, was a key player of Singapore Armed Forces FC - now known as Warriors FC - the last team from the Republic to feature in the AFC Champions League in 2010.
That year, the Warriors were also grouped with Gamba. They lost 4-2 at the Jalan Besar Stadium and 3-0 in Osaka.
But, backed by the experience of their 2009 debut, the Warriors finished third in the four-team group, by virtue of a 0-0 draw and a 2-1 win over China's Henan Jianye.
Bennett played a key part in that memorable victory at Jalan Besar by scoring the first goal.
Fast forward 11 years, he hopes to impart his experience to his teammates.
"We have a young team, so it's a responsibility for those senior players to instil the belief and confidence in the younger ones... to go and play and show what they can do individually and as a team," said the former Singapore international, who has a record 142 caps.
"Having got results against these teams before, I don't see why this team can't achieve similar success."
Stags coach Gavin Lee, 30, maintains that they are not just there to make up the numbers.
"There are many aspects we can learn and take away from this experience but we are not just here for experience," said Lee, who led Tampines to second place in the SPL for the last two seasons.
"We want to compete and we want to give a good showcase for the club for the fans back home."
Lee has been keeping tabs on Gamba, noting that they had changed their coach last month.
Tsuneyasu Miyamoto has been replaced by former Gamba player Masanobu Matsunami after a poor start to the J1 season.
Gamba are languishing at 17th in the 20-team J1, scoring only seven goals in 15 matches.
But they are seeking a turnaround in Tashkent.
"We believe that the team will change during this challenging Champions League tournament. We have two to three weeks here, and we believe we can make some changes," Matsunami said on the AFC website.