Bangkok: The AFC Champions League 2021 (East) kicks off on Tuesday when the four teams in Group G start their campaign at Rajamangala Stadium in Thailand.
The host country’s Ratchaburi Mitr Phol will make his continental debut and they will be joined by Southeast Asian rivals Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia, 2009 winners of the Pohang Steelers of the Republic of Korea and Japan’s Nagoya Grampus, who return for the first time since 2012.
Opened in 1998 ahead of the 13th Asian Games, Rajamangala Stadium is home to the Thai national team and is the largest sports venue in the Southeast Asian country. The atmospheric arena has a capacity of 49,722 seats and was part of the stadiums used for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup.
One of the biggest games ever hosted at the venue was the inaugural AFC Champions League final second leg between Thais BEC Tero Sasana and Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates in October 2003, which hosts won 1-0 on the night but lost 2-1 on aggregate.
Most recently, Rajamangala Stadium hosted the 2020 AFC U23 Championship final, which saw the Republic of Korea beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 to become champions.
Steven langil – Ratchaburi Mitr Phol
Having gained a lot of experience in France, Poland and the Netherlands, Martinique international Steeven Langil headed east in 2018 to join Ratchaburi and his form was essential in helping the Thai League team. 1 to qualify for the first time for an Asian club competition.
Langil is an important creator and goal scorer, weighing – by far – with more assists than any of his teammates last season and also scoring seven times. While this will be his first experience in the AFC Champions League, he has played – and scored – for France’s Auxerre side in the UEFA Champions League.
Safawi Rasid – Johor Darul Ta’zim
Returning to Johor Darul Ta’zim after a short stint in Portugal, Safawi Rasid has already shown his considerable talent on the AFC Champions League stage, with his superb goal against Shandong Luneng in his first campaign. team in 2019 among the highlights of the competition. .
A delicate striker with an eye for an assist, the ability to face defenders and score from a distance, Safawi enters the tournament after scoring the winner for Malaysia in their Asian playoff victory over rivals ASEAN , Thailand.
Sin Jin-ho – Pohang Steelers
After capturing East Coast rival Ulsan Hyundai to AFC Champions League glory last year, Sin Jin-ho has returned to where he started his career in early 2021, and his leadership skills will likely be essential for a team that hasn’t competed on the continent since 2016.
A midfield mover who protects the backline well and wins the majority of his defensive duels, Sin is also essential in getting things done from the center and weighs in with his fair share of goals and assists.
Mitch Langerak – Nagoya Grampus
An imposing presence and an excellent shooter who recently retired from international service with Australia, Mitch Langerak’s form in 2020 was key to his team’s qualification for the competition. Last line of defense for a team that scored the fewest goals in the top 10 of J League 1, the 32-year-old played all 34 games as Nagoya ended the campaign with the best defensive record.
The trend continued in 2021, with the former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper still standing again for a support team that have the meanest defense and have gone nine games without conceding. Statistics alone show that there is no doubt about the importance of Langerak to his team ahead of his first AFC Champions League appearance in more than a decade.
Meetings to see
As the only rookie in the squad, all eyes will be on Ratchaburi when they step onto the pitch against Pohang in their opener on June 22 as a team that has been around for less than 20 years faces one that has won three continental titles – two of which came before the Thai side was even founded.
But there will also be a lot of intrigue around Pohang, the 2009 winners, who were previously a regular at the AFC Champions League but haven’t appeared since 2016. Five-time K League 1 champions, they will seek to recover as a force. in Asian club football.
Returning to the AFC Champions League for the first time since 2012, Nagoya will aim to maintain their perfect record of reaching the round of 16 in each of their three appearances.
Although they have never faced Pohang before, the 2009 edition marks their two best performances in the competition as Nagoya reached the semi-finals before being eliminated by Al Ittihad, who then lost the final to Pohang. . Japan vs Korea is always a big chance, so expect the same when the two teams face off on June 25.
The AFF Cup (ASEAN Football Federation) regularly features the intense rivalries between Southeast Asian countries, but since 2008, clubs from nations competing in the regional competition have not faced each other in AFC Champions League. That all changes on June 25 when JDT takes on Ratchaburi in what will be the first-ever match between Malaysia and Thailand in the competition.
In recent times, it is the Malaysians who have taken the upper hand over the Thais at the international level (achieving the double in the Asian qualifiers and coming out victorious in the semi-finals of the AFF Cup 2018), and JDT will look to continue this trend. at Rajamangala Stadium.
The survey ends at 6:00 p.m. (UTC + 8) on June 22.