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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?