No real surprises in First Preliminary Round
The Asian Champions League has finally commenced with the First Preliminary Round concluding with no real surprises. In my preview, I predicted that Ceres-Negroes, Bali United, Al-Riffa and Kuwait SC would all progress to the next round. Even though my predictions were right, I am surprised by some of the scorelines – namely the Bali United and Tampines Rovers clash which ended 5-3 to the Indonesian titans. Also unexpected was the fight put up by Shan United. Ceres should have won the match comfortably, and Shan should take pride in managing to keep the Filipinos on their toes until the final whistle. Thankfully, the teams eliminated from the first round can find comfort in the fact they have places reserved in the AFC Cup.
The second preliminary round sees more teams fighting for a place in Asia’s premier continental competition. Asian football heavyweights Melbourne Victory, Esteghal, Buriram United, and FC Bunyodkor feature in this round and potentially could be too much for the first round entrants to handle. Even though that may be the probable outcome, this is not just football but football in Asia where literally anything is possible. These are three noteworthy clashes this round.
Melbourne Victory [AUS] vs Bali United [IDN]
The Indonesian champions had to dig deep and score two goals in extra time to overcome Singaporean outfit, Tampines Rovers. It was clear that the Tampines players lacked match fitness as the 90 minutes of regulation time exhausted them. The Tridatu Warriors were much fitter, maintained high energy levels, and capitalized on errors made by the Tampines players, which led to both goals.
United are lethal up front, but they need to shore up their defences against an incredibly strong Melbourne Victory team. The Australian club finished as second runners up in the A-League last term and are no Tampines Rovers (with all due respect). Yet, the club has struggled domestically. Their main threat forward, Ola Toivonen has thus far racked up seven goals in 12 games for Victory but is out for the tie, picking up an injury some years back. Robbie Kruse has tried to fill the void, but the Australian international is more effective as a winger. If Bali United maintain a tight defensive line, they could potentially pull off an upset. However, there is a distinct gulf in quality between the teams, and I see Melbourne Victory picking up a narrow victory.
Prediction: Melbourne Victory 2-1 Bali United
Buriram United [THA] vs Ho Chi Minh City [VIE]
Buriram United have been one of the most dominant teams in the Thai League 1 recently. Even though they narrowly lost out to Chiangrai United last time, Buriram United still pose a significant threat to any club. The loss of their top scorer Diogo to Johor Darul Ta’zim at the end of 2018 has definitely hurt the team. Buriram have tried to replace their former talisman last season but have let their foreign strikers go at the end of the season. This season we see two new strikers at the club – Argentinian Bernardo Cuesta from Peruvian side FBC Melgar, and Brazilian Ricardo Bueno who arrives from Alagoano. Cuesta is definitely more of a marquee signing given his prolific goal scoring record at Melgar where he scored 95 goals and made 30 assists in 205 appearances for the Peruvian side. He certainly is an ideal candidate to replicate Diogo.
Ho Chi Minh City, on the other hand, have put on strong showings in their club friendlier the term. Even though they lost to Jeonam Dragons and Ulsan Hyundai FC, they limited the deficit to 1-0 in both matches. Ho Chi Minh City finished 2nd last term in the Vietnamese League which grants them this position in the second preliminary round. While the club has done well in the league, I just don’t see Buriram losing this encounter. City would stage a strong defensive showing, but Buriram have too many experienced heads to be losing this encounter.
Prediction: Buriram 1-0 Ho Chi Minh City FC
Port F.C [THA] vs Ceres [PHI]
Ceres managed to narrowly beat Shan United in the first round but face a real challenge in Port F.C in this round. The Filipinos need to shore up their backline for Port F.C have better quality upfront. The Thai outfit came in third last campaign and have reinforced this term with Brazilian winger Heberty on loan from Muangthong United. They also have experienced attacking midfielder Sergio Suarez who has amassed a total of 39 goals and 25 assists since joining Port from Police United in 2017.
Ceres could potentially upset the Thai club since veteran strikers Rolando Blackburn, and Dragan Boskovic have left the squad. Furthermore, Bienvenido Marañón and Robert Lopez have the ability to pose major problems to Port’s backline. Yet, Ceres are minnows in comparison to Port F.C and the Thai outfit should see the game out comfortably. If Ceres replicate their defensive performance in the first round, expect Port to rattle in the goals.
Prediction: Port F.C 3-1 Ceres