An Article by Brendon Tan

Musings from a Tampines Rovers fan on the club’s first-ever foray into the group stages of the Asian Champions League.

27th January 2021 – that is the magic date.

As of writing this, we are less than a week to the 2021 Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) draw which is happening on the 27th of January 2021 at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Just across the Causeway, in neighbouring Singapore, local football fans and Tampines diehards will be glued to their screens as the result of the draw are announced.

One of these diehards who will be watching will be me.

For the 40th time, the continent’s biggest prize in club football will be up for grabs. The region’s best will find out on that very day which group they will be in and what teams they will be up against. Holders, Ulsan Hyundai, with two ACL titles under their belt, will be hoping to defend their crown after beating Iran’s Persepolis 2-1 at the finals of the 2020 ACL.

This year’s tournament will be a special one. Not only is it the first time the ACL will have 40 teams instead of the usual 32, but it will also feature Singapore’s Tampines Rovers Football Club (TRFC) for the first time in the group stages of the ACL.

As a Rovers fan, I could not be prouder of my team for such a historic achievement.

On December 2nd, we qualified for the ACL on the last day of the 2020 season, finishing as the top local team. (On December 2nd, we qualified for the ACL, after grinding out to an admittedly nerve wracking 1 – 1 draw with the Lion City Sailors.)

The last time a Singaporean side was involved in the group stages of the ACL was in 2010. Back then, the island’s most successful local side, Singapore Armed Forces Football Club (SAFFC) (now known as Warriors FC) took part but only managed to finish 3rd in their group.

Photo Credits: Brendon Tan Xing Ming 

Before that historic day, the Stags had never made it out of the qualifiers of the ACL and have spent most seasons playing in the group stages of the AFC Cup. For the uninitiated Eurosnobs, this is our region’s equivalent to the Europa League. Unfortunately, this was ultimately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was frustrating for us fans as the Stags were actually doing incredibly well in the tournament. The ACL was also allowed to continue, which added salt to the wound.

But that is all in the past.

On the 27th of January, Tampines Rovers will know what teams it will be competing against in the Champions League.

The thought of East Asian giants like Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC, Guangzhou Evergrande and Gamba Osaka potentially playing at our local grounds, whether it be Jalan Besar, Bishan or the National Stadium (oh footballing gods please just let it be Our Tampines Hub (OTH) for once) is tantalising. However, this, unfortunately, seems very unlikely due to the current pandemic situation. The competition will very likely be played at a centralised venue.

It is also a great pity that we might actually not be able to go for any of the games live and might have to settle with simply watching it on the telly. 

Nonetheless, the thought that our local veterans Yasir Hanapi and Daniel Bennet might soon be asked to lead our Stags against teams such as J1 League Champion, Kawasaki Frontale, is extremely enticing!

There is the possibility that we might see our own Japanese Magician, Kyoga Nakamura, dribbling past his fellow countrymen with his usual brand of trickery. Or Madhu Mohana might be throwing his famous long balls into the box potentially against teams like Sydney FC or Pohang Steelers. All of these will no doubt be exciting sights to behold for us Stags fans.

It also delights me that our very own young prospects such as Shah Shahiran (who has been a revelation for the club so far) will get the chance to feature in the region’s biggest club tournament as well. The opportunity for our young Stags to play with Asia’s finest will no doubt provide invaluable experience for them and hopefully improve our team overall as well.

In fact, looking at the pre-season signings we have been doing, it seems likely that the Stags will be fielding a rather young albeit promising team for the upcoming season. I admit this initially left me a little bit concerned but nonetheless, I place my full faith in the team and of course, in Gavin Lee’s abilities as a coach. Trust the process, I say.

Photo Credits: Brendon Tan Xing Ming 

Regardless of whether we make it far in the competition, it brings me great joy just for me to be able to see my local team on the continent’s biggest stage!

With that, I am confident my Stags will be going all out for the win when the tournament officially begins next month.


P.S. Also, TRFC in this year’s edition of Pro Evolution Soccer (PES)? You love to see it.

Featured Image Credits: Brendon Tan Xing Ming 

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