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Ports Route to ACL Knockout Qualification

There was a spell last night with BG Pathum a goal down to Viettel, added to Ratchaburi’s hard faught 0-0 draw with Korean’s Pohang Steelers and Chiangrai’s back to back 1-1 draws with J League’s Gamba Osaka, that the recent results of the three other Thai teams looked like getting Port chances of reaching the knock out stages of the ACL champions league back into a favourable position. As it would turn out the Thai champions would show their superior class in the second half and secure a 3-1 win over the Vietnamese champions. Great for them and Thai football but what does it mean for Ports chances?

 

Why it Matters? 

With 5 groups and 8 spots in the knock out stage for each half of the AFC Champions league, not every 2nd place team advances, think of it as the Euros evil twin. As such only the three best  second places teams go though. With the Western half of the competition having completed their group stage, we can see that 10 points was enough to advance (although Al-Sadd were left erm sadd as they failed to advance despite achieving 10 points and equal goal difference with Al- Hilal who had scored more goals and advance in hilal-rious fashion).

If Port win their remaining two fixtures v Kitchee and Guangzhou they can achieve 10 points, will it be enough? The West side featured a lot more draws than the East has so far, finishing with 18 draws from the 60 games (30%) played while the East has seen just 6 from 42 games (14.28%), so plenty more points taken out of the equation. Conversely there were less teams at the bottom of the Western groups who would fail to take points off the teams at the top. Its perhaps better to look at each group in the East and try and second guess what will happen. No easy task as those at the top have shown themselves happy to rotate their squads and with qualification assured its only more likely that some decide to give lesser squad members a run out.

 

Group F 

With 4 games played Ulsan top the group already on 12 points that will surely see them advance. While second place BG have 9 points with fixtures against the Korean serial ACL participants and K League bridesmaids, along with a very winnable fixture with Filipino runners up Kaya, that should see them to 12 points and advancement regardless of the outcome when the groups top two meet on Sunday.

 

 

Group G  

One of the groups with a second place team Port can hope to surpass. There’s one game left to play, Nagoya have 15 points and have advanced to the knock outs, second place Pohang Steelers have 10 points and a goal difference of +4 going into a final game v Nagoya tomorrow. Nagoya’s Yuki Soma is part of the Japanese Olympic squad and may have left to quarantine and maximise his involvement in build up games for that squad, for the rest of the team there is no fixture for 10 days, will they rotate and what will their level of motivation be? We have to hope for a Nagoya win and if they were to throw in a few goals to help close the Koreans advantage of six in goal difference over Port that would be great. A result for Pohang and they can’t be surpassed.

 

 

Group H 

With 4 games played this group remains wide open. Jeonbuk are top with 10 points, with Gamba Osaka second on 6 and Chiangrai third on 5. The second and third place teams have Tampines Rovers of Singapour to play and should collect wins. While the remaining fixtures see Jeonbuk play Chiangrai then Gamba in the last round of games. This is a poorly performing Gamba side, who have flopped in this seasons J league, compared to preseason expectations and find themselves 18th, just one place above relegation, although they have played less games than their rivals due to games cancelled due to covid cases in the squad earlier in the season and their ACL participation. Chiangrai as ever have been hard to beat and were the better team by some distance v Gamba last time out. Its not beyond the realms of possibility they can win both their remaining games to finish on 11 points. However Jeonbuk will be favourites to win both their remaining games, a situation to Ports advantage as should that happen the second place team from this group is almost certain to be eliminated.

 

Group I 

How do you stop one team out of their depth being cut a drift at the bottom of a group? Simple, have two teams well below the normal standard of ACL group stage participants, mix in the best team in the region in Kawasaki and in Daegu a decent Korean team and you have nothing to see here relative to the qualification situation.  The top two are yet to concede to United City or Beijing Guoan, whilst averaging more than 6 goals per game against them. There’s more chance of Muangthong making next years ACL than top two not collecting 12 points and an insurmountable goal difference from their games v the bottom two and both advancing (regardless of the result when they meet on Thursday).

 

Group J

Our group, we need to win both our remaining fixtures starting today against Kitchee and see a swing of 6 goals v Pohang on goal difference.

The final round of games see us face Guangzhou and Kitchee face Cerezo Osaka. The possibility of Kitchee being beaten today and then taking 3 points from a Cerezo team of squad players, fading pops stars, kit men and the bus driver* would see us consigned to 3rd place. Even a draw could be enough for the team from Hong Kong as the final standings are determined by head to head record and then head to head goal difference. So a single goal win for Port today, would see Kitchee finish second with a draw against Cerezo. Quite simply we need two big wins and to hope for a few results to go our way.

*some of these people aren’t registered and can’t play.

Big Time Selection Actuality

 

With the return of Thai football still a few days away, the Asian Champions League (ACL) draw, looks even more exciting than your average opportunity to watch a few suited ex pro struggle to read the names of teams they’ve just drawn.

 

Thailand has surpassed Australia in the rankings and now sit proudly as the fourth best performing East Asian League. Which results in a jump from one direct entry to the Group Stage and two places in the Preliminary Round to a somewhat preferable TWO direct entries to the Group Stage and two in the Playoff Round. Preferable because it means Port’s second place finish in the first leg, of this much extended season, gets the club a direct entrance to the group stage. And more importantly, none of that messing about like last year, facing some team from the Philippines before heading to Japan……..(which you’ll recall all went exactly to plan).

 

Sadly, this year also won’t allow us to see Port take on some of Asia’s finest in person (no offence Phillippines football) as the group stage will take place at centralized locations, as yet there has been no word as to if that will be one location for the entire competition, per region or per group. However, the dates were recently confirmed.

 

Clear the diary its Port in the Champions League

 

The format of the draw seems standard, 10 groups, 5 in West Asia and 5 in East Asia. Each group made up of 4 teams drawn from seeded pots. With teams from the same nation kept apart. Port will be a pot 2 team, alongside 2020 ACL champions Ulsan Hyudai, that’s how big time we are seen down AFC HQ (yeah l’m not sure either). Pot 1 options for Port feature the Champions of China (Jiangsu), Japan (Kawasaki Frontale), Korea (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors) and Shangdong Taishan who merely won the Chinese FA Cup and finished 3rd in the Chinese Super League (and potentially offer a midfield battle between two kings of the sly foul, Marouane Fellaini and Siwakorn). Pot 3’s main point of interest is United City of the Philippines, one to avoid or a chance to put right the wrongs of last season, as they are Ceres-Negros rebranded. With ChiangRai and Ratchaburi in Pot 4 there are only 3 options, Sydney FC, the winner of the Beijing (China) v Brisbane Roar (Australia) play off or whoever makes it from Kaya (Philippines), Cerezo Osaka (Japan) and Melbourne City (Australia).

 

Live streaming of the AFC Champions League 2021 Group Stage draw will be available on AFC’s YouTube channel – The AFC Hub – at 1530 tomorrow (January 27th) watch it here

Finally The End In Sight – Final Fixtures 2020/21 Season

The best and brightest over at League HQ finally got round to publishing the remaining fixtures, for this seemingly endless season. Highlights include, back to back home games against Buriram in mid-January, with a Wednesday last 16 FA Cup game followed by a league fixture on Saturday. A potential “title decider” when the current top two meet on Wednesday 27th January as Port travel to occasional home, The Leo Stadium. The second derby of the season, along with the fun of big screens comes around again on Saturday 6th February as a (fanless) Port travel to Nonthaburi. Sadly lovers of beachside fixtures and nice stadiums will be disappointed to see that the trips to Prachuap and Ratchaburi have both been scheduled for midweek. The season ends with a trip to Korat on Saturday 20th March, with the possibility of both clubs having some to play for at different ends of the table, it could be quite the finale.

 

Current Known Fixtures

 

Chiangrai United Away Tue. 22rd Dec.

Samut Prakan City Away Sun. 27th Dec.

Sukhothai Home Sun. 10th Jan.

FA Cup Buriram United Home Wed. 13th Jan.

Buriram United Home Sat. 16th Jan.

Police Tero Away Sat. 23rd Jan.

BG Pathum United Away Wed. 27th Jan.

Trat Home Sun. 31st Jan.

Muangthong United Away Sat. 6th Feb.

Rayong Home Sat. 13th Feb.

Prachuap away Thu. 18th Feb.

Bangkok United Home Sun. 21st Feb.

Suphanburi Away Sat. 27th Feb.

Chonburi Home Sun. 7th March.

Ratchaburi away Wed. 10th March.

Chiangrai Home Sat. 13th March.

Korat Away Sat. 20th March.

 

With those 6(SIX) Champions League fixtures to be added and potentially another 3 FA Cup matches (the final is slated for 3rd April), it looks like a busy few months for everyone at Port.

 

Busy times for Port means busy times for The Sandpit, so if there are any games you’d like to write a preview or match report for get in touch. It’s also nice to hear new voices and opinions and it stops us from repeating ourselves quite as often.

Port in the AFC: What Happens Next

 

Port’s stunning end-of-season form (4 wins in the last 5 games, scoring 18 and conceding 3) means they’ve finished in lofty 3rd place. Not only does this mean we’ve finished ahead of Muangthong, it also means there is a strong possibility of qualifying for the AFC Champions’ League qualifiers.

AFC qualifying for Thai clubs works like this: the winning team qualifies directly for the group stages, whilst the runners-up and the FA Cup winners enter the 2nd round of qualifiers. However, if one of the top two teams also wins the FA Cup, then the team in third – Port – gets the third AFC place. And it just so happens that, on 27 October, T1 winners Buriram will take on Chiang Rai Utd in the FA Cup final, which means that if they win, Port get that third slot.

This graphic explains what happens next:

 

 

Should Port qualify, they will enter the qualifying tournament in round 2, where their opponents are already known – 2018 V League champions Hanoi FC, with the game to be played at home. Hanoi won the V League by a huge 20+-point margin this season and have several Vietnam national team players, as well as Vietnamese-Nigerian goal machine Hoang Vu Samson who had a brief & unhappy spell at Buriram earlier this season; yet it is almost certainly a winnable game.

That, unfortunately, is where the good news ends, for Port’s next game would see them travel to China – in winter – to face the team finishing 4th in the Chinese Super League. That team will be either Shandong Luneng Taishan, or Beijing Sinobo Guoan. Shandong have former Southampton striker Graziano Pelle in their ranks; Beijing boast players with international caps for Brazil & Spain, as well as a striker who scored 120 goals in 144 games for RB Salzburg. If (and it’s the biggest IF ever seen on The Sandpit) by some footballing miracle, Port get past that huge hurdle, they’ll be in the group stage.

Add in the fact that the PAT doesn’t meet the AFC’s host stadium criteria, and essentially what AFC qualification boils down to is a game against a Vietnamese team at Supachalasai, followed by a right shoeing in freezing conditions in China. But let’s ignore that now, & focus on the huge bragging rights value it would give us. Are you watching Legoland?