Tough draw for home
Defending champs have work cut out against foreign sides in Pool B
When Home United midfielder Yasir Hanapi drew the number "10" for his team at the RHB Singapore Cup draw at Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday morning, rival fans from other S.League teams whooped in delight.
Yasir's pick means that the Protectors will take on Cambodia's Nagacorp in the first round of matches, which will take place from May 25 to June 1.
Home's rival fans are rejoicing because last year's Singapore Cup winners are placed in Pool B of the tournament which, on paper, looks tougher than Pool A.
If the Protectors are to mount a successful defence of the trophy which they have won a record six times, they could potentially have to come up against Albirex Niigata and Brunei DPMM, who have already beaten them convincingly in S.League meetings this season.
In addition, there is the threat of the unknown posed by this season's five invited teams from around the region.
Philippine sides Loyola Meralco Sparks and Global FC showed their quality when they progressed to the Singapore Cup's quarter-final and semi-final stages respectively last year.
Nagacorp and fellow Cambodian side Svay Rieng currently occupy the top two spots in the Cambodian domestic league, while third debutants, SHB Champasak, are the champions in Laos.
The Singapore Cup will be contested in a knockout format, with the winners advancing to the following round.
One team each from Pool A and B will make the final.
Home coach Lee Lim Saeng, however, is bullish about his team's chances of retaining the Cup.
A day after seeing his team demolish in-form Warriors FC 4-1 in a Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League game, the South Korean said: "I believe in my players and that we have a quality side.
"We had unfortunate losses against Albirex and DPMM in the S.League this season but I believe that my players have learnt from those games.
"Defending a title is never been easy, so we will continue to give our best for each game.
"We see this (being drawn in Pool B) as a good challenge and good exposure for us to go head to head with other international teams, with differing playing styles. We will go into every match with a positive mindset."
Before yesterday's draw, some 998 participants, which included youth footballers from S.League clubs, RHB Bank and Football Association of Singapore (FAS) officials, created a new national record for the Longest Football Dribbling Chain.
RHB and FAS decided to attempt the record as a way to celebrate 10 years of partnership.
RHB came on board as the title sponsors of the Singapore Cup in 2004, and yesterday re-affirmed their support for the tournament by pledging to stay on until 2016.
The new three-year deal is understood to be worth more than $1 million.
FAS president Zainudin Nordin said: "We are heartened and also humbled by RHB Bank Berhad's unstinting support of the RHB Singapore Cup.
"This sponsorship renewal is another milestone for the S.League, as this would be our third major sponsor re-signing in two years, including Yeo's and Great Eastern, our co-title sponsors for the S.League.
"I would like to urge more corporate sponsors to come forward to support and boost our continuous efforts to raise footballing standards."
Jason Wong, the country head for RHB Bank, said: "The RHB Singapore Cup has a very pronounced presence in South-east Asian football.
"Due to the regional presence of this competition, there is natural synergy between FAS and RHB to work together as the bank expands our operations in Asean.
"Through the sponsorship of the RHB Singapore Cup, RHB Bank is proud and heartened to be part of the ongoing process of football development and the laying of a strong footballing foundation in Singapore."
The number of times Home United have lifted the Singapore Cup. Their triumphs in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2011 and last year make them the best side in the 17-year-old tournament.
- Harimau Muda B v Tampines Rovers
- Woodlands Wellington v Geylang International
- Tanjong Pagar United v Hougang United
- Warriors FC v Balestier Khalsa
- Svay Rieng (Cam) v Albirex Niigata
- Home United v Nagacorp (Cam)
- Global FC (Phi) v Brunei DPMM
- Loyola Meralco Sparks (Phi) v SHB Champasak (Lao)