The Malaysia Cup winners can count on a much stronger squad this season but an injury crisis and the danger in the form of the S.League title favourites means AFC Cup Group E will be far from straightforward...
The Red Giants only secured a place in this competition after Pahang were deducted six points in the MSL for failing to adhere to a FIFA order to pay compensation to former striker Mohamed Borji.
Selangor climbed to second as a result, and Singapore’s LionsXII winning the FA Cup meant the MSL runners-up also qualify for the AFC Cup as invitees are not allowed to compete in continental competitions.
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Selangor, who last played in the competition in 2014 – also qualifying as runners-up after Kelantan won the MSL and FA Cup in 2013 – will be out to avoid the disappointment of their last AFC Cup campaign.
In 2014, Selangor finished third in the group behind Hanoi T&T and Indonesia’s Arema Cronus.
However, the club have a stronger squad this time around and a new coach in Zainal Abidin Hassan brings valuable AFC Cup experience from his time Pahang last year. The Elephants reached the quarter-final last year but fell to eventual finalists Istiklol 5-3 on aggregate.
Yet an injury crisis currently threatens to derail Selangor’s aspirations. The Red Giants were without six players in their 2-0 FA Cup win over AirAsia Allstars on Friday.
Selangor turned 80 on Monday and there would be no better way to mark the club’s anniversary than a win in Philippines to start the AFC Cup with three points in the bag.
Founded in 2012, Ceres makes their debut in the AFC Cup tournament proper this year after losing out 1-0 to Maziya of Maldives in the East Zone playoff in 2015.
Zainal is likely to pay more attention to his attack considering his Pahang side were unable to find the back of the net against Philippines’ 2015 representative Global in 180 minutes of football. Pahang and Global drew both group matches 0-0.
Selangor’s toughest challenge in the group will arguably be in the form of S.League runners-up Tampines Rovers. Led by 2013 MSL winning coach V. Sundramoorthy, Tampines boast a host of Singapore’s best internationals and a certain Jermaine Pennant.
Tampines qualified for the competition by virtue of being the best local side in the S-League after invitee Brunei DPMM finished top last year.
Sundramoorthy is a known tactician to the Malaysians because of the manner in which he guided LionsXII to the 2013 MSL title. The now-defunct club were never the best side on paper considering they never counted on the quality of import players, but a resilient defence and the fortress that was Jalan Besar Stadium fortress proved the platform to shame their Malaysian rivals.
Bangladesh Premier League winners Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club make up the group and considering the huge Bangladeshi presence in Malaysia, Selangor face a possibility of having an ‘away’ tie in their very own backyard if the Selangor faithful do not turn up in numbers at Shah Alam Stadium on April 12.