JDT will present 'formidable' test in 2018 AFC Cup - Tampines Rovers
Singapore's Tampines Rovers have landed the toughest draw in the 2018 AFC Cup, according to general manager Desmund Khusnin.
In the likely event that both Tampines and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) fail to make it through the preliminary rounds and into the AFC Champions League (ACL) group stage, the S.League runners-up will face the Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions, who won the competition back in 2015.
Indonesian giants Persija Jakarta and Vietnam's Song La Nghe An (SLNA) make up the four teams in Group H, presenting a huge challenge for the Stags after Wednesday's draw in Kuala Lumpur.
"I think that's the toughest group of all the AFC [Cup], so we'll see how it goes," Desmund told ESPN FC. "Every one of those teams that we are up against, I think they are formidable opponents."
The battle with JDT will be particularly intriguing, especially with Singapore midfielder Hariss Harun back at the Southern Tigers following a loan spell at Home United.
"I think that will be an interesting confrontation, and I think the coach has his work cut out for him," Desmund said. "We'll see how we go about that game."
Before they begin AFC Cup duty, Tampines still have an ACL qualifier at Bali United to negotiate on Jan. 16.
"I think that we've got a fairly good chance for that game, but subsequently after that, I think it's much, much tougher," Khusnin said. "We'll take one game at a time."
Even if they can overcome the Indonesians, the Stags would still have to win at Chiang Rai United in Thailand before travelling to face Chinese giants Shanghai SIPG in a playoff.
While Desmund would like to see his side go as far as possible, he is clearly realistic about the prospects.
Now, Tampines have time to work on strengthening their squad for the significant challenges ahead in the New Year.
"For the next couple of weeks we can sort out the whole team," Desmund said.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK