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ACL 2016: Qualification kicks off for Chonburi and Muang Thong

AFC Champions League
Thailand's two representatives in the qualification for the AFC Champions League 2016 will start their campaign this Tuesday. While Chonburi will meet a side they have crossed swords before, Muang Thong will meet the AFC Cup Champion 2015.

1-1 and 1-0 were the result four years ago when Chonburi FC and Yangon United have met. At that time, in the AFC Cup and during the group stage. Now both sides to meet for the first time in the AFC Champions League. Although only in the prelimanary round. A modification of the system, which the Asian Federation has introduced recently to give more Nations the opportunity to be part of the continents premier club competition, makes this possible. At the same time, the third-class AFC Presidents Cup was abolished.

For the smaller Nations, it is still a big hurdle to overcome the play-offs. Because no later than in the final qualifying round before the group stages the big guns from China, Japan and Australia waiting for a side which could make it through the previous rounds. Even a cash-rich hurdle like in the case of China. Muang Thong could get to feel this soon.

But at first the two representatives of Thailand in the play-offs, Chonburi and Muang Thong, need to play this round which takes place this Tuesday 2 February. On paper it seems the Sharks, with Therdsak Chaiman in his first ever role as head coach, got the slightly lighter opponent with the four-time Myanmar National League champion from Yangon. Although the two encounters four years ago were close ties, the quality of the Chonburi squad of 2016 should be sufficient enough to win the on-off game and cheered on by its own fans.

Although Terdsak is lacking experience as coach, he has more than enough international experience as a player for his clubs and the national team, and in 2003 he finished second behind Mehdi Mahdavikia in the election to Asians footballer of the year. Not least because of his performances in the Champions League with BEC Tero Sasana.

On the visitors side from the neighbouring country, there are particularly two players to mention. The two 23-year old Kyaw Ko Ko and Kyi Lin. Both are the backbone of the national team of Myanmar; they know how to shine and are dangerous in front of the goal. However, Yangon has lost its best foreign player and most prolific striker of recent years, Cézar Augusto, to FK Sarajevo. Between 2012 and 2015 the Brazilian had hit more than 100 goals for the Lions.

If Chonburi can beat Yangon, Therdsak's side is to meet Japanese representative FC Tokyo next week. Compared to most better-known members of the J-League, FC Tokyo has appeared in the AFC Champions League only one time so far. In 2012. And so is a relatively unknown quantity.

This can't be said no longer about Muang Thong United's opponent Johor Darul Ta'zim. The club owned by the Crown Prince of Johor, is the new flagship of Malaysian club football. The champion of the past two seasons is investing heavily in its infrastructure and has also signed a partnership agreement with Bundesliga heavyweight Borussia Dortmund.

Last year at the same place, around the same time, JDT failed to make it to the final play-off round by losing 0-3 on away to Bangkok Glass. An almost easy win for the Rabbits, with not much chances for Johar to score. That however did not mean the end of JDT's international adventure despite being eliminated of the Champions League. The Malaysian side's run started just here. Because, the losers of the first two preliminary rounds are allowed to continue playing in the AFC Cup. And at the end of the 2015 AFC Cup season, JDT was able to lift the trophy as first ever winner from South-East Asia. Although the side was a bit fortunate in advancing to the final. The two Kuwaiti participants were taken off the competiton due to the FIFA ban of the Kuwait FA even before the second leg of the semi-finals were underway.

JDT is studded with Malaysian internationals and names that have a good sound in Southeast Asia. Whether it is Safee Sali, Gary Steven Robbat or skipper Safiq Rahim. Not to forget Harris Harun from Singapore. Although registered for the match against Muang Thong, Paulo Rangel won't get the chance to play against his former club. The Brazilian just moved to Johor Darul Ta'zim from Terengganu (Malaysia), but doesn't seem to fit the team. Hence he either will be moved to the reserve team of JDT or will be lent to any other club.

Tawan Sripan

Tawan Sripan (2014)
image: © thai-fussball.com

Tawan Sripan, who is the new man in charge of Muang Thong and just signed a contract with the Kirins two weeks ago, is facing his first big test as a coach on international level. Compared to his colleague at Chonburi, the 44-year old has far less experience at international level as a player he can draw on. Despite a long playing career, he had only appeared in two Champions League seasons. With Hoŕng Anh Gia Lai in 2004 and 2005.

For the game against JDT Tawan must do without two of his experienced players Datsakorn Thonglao and Teerasil Dangda. But for the duo Muang Thong's new signings are set to make their debut. Not only their debut for their new club, but also on international stage: Chanathip Songkhrasin and Tanaboon Keserat. Two under-23 and A-senior internationals.

If Muang Thong should win and advance, Thailand's three-time champion would face a heavy tie away in China with Shanghai SIPG. The side under the reign of Sven-Goran Eriksson have just secured the service of Brazilian Elkeson who moved from in from League rival Guangzhou Evergrande for the crazy amount of 20 Million Euro. This transfer alone is eight-times more then the season budget of Muang Thong. Shanghai has also been linked with names such as Nani, Robin van Persie and most recently John Obi Mikel.

But as aforementioned, both Thai teams will have to overcome their opponents first this week, before squandering any thought on what could wait next week. However, on the paper, both are favorite to win with Muang Thong most likely to face the stronger of the two opponents with JDT. But as said, Bangkok Glass have beat JDT by three goals last year and a fortnight ago the Malaysians have lost a pre-season friendly against Chonburi by 2-0. Something that should make the Kirins courage.

The game of Chonburi will be broadcast on true sport 2 (19:00), while Siam Sport (CH 694) is going to broadcast the other game with kick-off at 19:30.
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