Bali United’s Cambodian revenge. Two Causeway Derbies. Sai Gon FC’s continental debut. Those are some of the highlights that came from the 2021 AFC Cup group stage draw for the ASEAN Zone, which was conducted on Wednesday. 2019 Liga 1 champions Bali United were drawn in Group G, taking on Vietnamese behemoths Hanoi FC, Cambodian champions Boeung Ket FC, and the qualifying play-off winner between Lao Toyota of Laos, Kasuka FC of Brunei Darussalam, and Hanthawady United of Myanmar.
With the safety of teams in the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in mind, the group stages for the 2021 AFC Cup will be held in centralized venues to be determined through a bidding process, with the group matches being played in a single round-robin basis, meaning that teams will only play each other once.
Stefano Cugurra Teco’s Bali United were controversially beaten 2-1 by Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng in the 2020 AFC Cup group stages and the Serdadu Tridatu would relish some measure of revenge against Svay Rieng’s countrymen in Boeung Ket, with the condition that they do not take their opponents lightly. The marquee tie of the group would undoubtedly be Hanoi facing off against Bali United, with the likes of Nguyen Quang Hai, Nguyen Van Quyet, Do Hung Dung, Geovane, and Bruno Cantanhede facing off against Ilija Spasojevic, Stefano Lilipaly, Brwa Nouri, Melvin Platje, and Lerby Eliandry.
Two Causeway Derbies – matches between teams from Malaysia against Singapore – are being served up in Groups H and I. Huge spending Lion City Sailors of Singapore – fresh from bringing in Diego Lopes from Portuguese Liga NOS side Rio Ave – will take on Malaysian powerhouses Kedah Darul Aman, managed by Singaporean Aidil Sharin Sahak in Group H. The duo will also have to contend with Sai Gon of Vietnam, who had injected themselves with reinforcements from the J.League for their continental debut, and the qualifying play-off winner between Visakha FC of Cambodia, Lalenok United of Timor-Leste, and Indonesian titans Persipura Jayapura.
Group I’s Causeway Derby will pit Singapore’s Geylang International against Malaysia’s Terengganu FC, the duo making their continental returns after lenghty absences. Joining them in the group are AFC Champions League contestants Kaya FC-Iloilo of the Philippines and Shan United of Myanmar. Should Kaya FC fall in their ACL qualifying campaign they will play in the AFC Cup group stages, but their spot will be vacated should they qualify for the ACL group stages. Meanwhile, Ayeyawady United will act as Shan United’s replacement should the Burmese champions go all the way into the ACL group stages.
Winners of each group will qualify to the ASEAN Zonal semifinals alongside the best runners-up of the three groups, with the semifinals being played as single-legged matches. The ASEAN Zonal final will also be a one-off affair, with the winners through to the inter-zonal semifinals.