HÀ NỘI — The draw for the AFC Champions League group stage has put Hoàng Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) into a ‘Group of Death’, pitted against some of the best sides in Asia. However, HAGL’s manager Kiatisuk Senamuang sees this is a good opportunity, rather than bad luck.
HAGL will meet Jeonbuk Huyndai Motors, Yokohama F. Marinos and one of three teams competing for a play-off spot (Changchun Yatai F.C, Sydney FC or Kaya FC) in Group H.
Jeonbuk are one of the strongest teams in Korea, having won the AFC Champions League twice and the K League nine times – a record.
In Japan, four-time J League champions Yokohama F. Marinos finished in second last season, behind only Kawasaki Frontale.
Of the three teams fighting it out for the final slot, Sydney FC are favourites to join Group H. With a record five A league titles, the Australian side are considered much stronger than China’s Changchun Yatai and the Philippine’s Kaya.
Despite facing the continent’s top opponents, Kiatisuk didn’t complain about the draw, arguing that every team at this stage are tough opponents. Instead, the 48–year–old manager is seeing this as an opportunity for his side.
“No matter how difficult it is, we will fight for Vietnamese football,” Kiatisuk said.
“Falling into the ‘Group of Death’ is actually very beneficial for the team. At this stage, no group is easy. We want to see where our team is in comparison to the best.
“Everyone knows the AFC Champions League features the teams in Asia. Our goal is to do our best to help HAGL players gain more experience when facing off against quality players.
“This is football, as predictable as it is. We know it will be difficult but we will try our best to enjoy it as much as possible.”
After 17 years of waiting, HAGL are finally returning to the biggest stage of Asia football. The team attended the tournament in 2004 and 2005 but failed both times to get out of their group.
This year, with quality foreign players such as Washington Brandao, Jefferson Baiano, Mauricio Barbosa and Kim Dong-su, Kiatisuk’s men are hoping to surprise their strong opponents.
The group stage will run from April 15 to May 1. The group winners and the three best runners-up will advance to the next round. VNS