Bali United boss ready For 2021 AFC Cup Challenge

The 2021 AFC Cup is set to be a thrilling affair following the conclusion of the Group Stage draw in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday.

The 2021 AFC Cup Group Stage will see 39 clubs competing – an increase of three from 2019 – with a newly-introduced Group for the Central Zone.

This edition will also award the winning team a place in the preliminary stage of the 2022 AFC Champions League.

With the 2020 edition cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lebanon’s Al Ahed FC, the 2019 champions, will kick off the defence of their title in Group A of the West Zone with Bahrain’s Al Hidd, Syria’s Al Wahda and Al Nasr of Oman for company.

Group B comprises Jordan’s Al Salt, Palestine’s Balata Center, Lebanon’s Al Ansar and Bahrain’s Muharraq while Group C has Syrian champions Tishreen, Al Seeb of Oman, Jordan’s Al Faisaly and a winner from the play-offs.

Group D, comprising South Zone teams, has ATK Mohun Bagan of India, Bangladesh’s Bashundhara Kings, Maziya S&RC of the Maldives and a play-off winner.

The Central Zone has been expanded to two groups with Tajikistan’s Ravshan, FC Dordoi of Kyrgyz Republic and Ahal FC of Turkmenistan in Group E while FC AGMK or FC Nasaf from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan’s Altyn Aysr, FC Khujand of Tajikistan and Kyrgyz Republic’s FC Alay make up Group F.

Hanoi FC of Vietnam, Indonesia’s Bali United, Boeung Ket of Cambodia and a play-off winner make up Group G of the ASEAN Zone.

Bali United, Liga 1 champions in 2019, haven’t kicked a ball in competition in almost 12 months due to the postponement and eventual cancellation of the 2020 Liga 1 season. This will prove a challenge for the staff and players to work through in the coming months said manager Stefano Cugurra.

‘It’s good that we already know our opponents in the AFC Cup, now we have to be well prepared. Now I will start looking for information on all of our opponents.

‘The problem for Bali United is we haven’t had a match for almost one year. In other countries teams have continued playing their league matches, which will make it easier for them. But at Bali United we will have to work hard in training and make a good preparation.’

Traditionally the AFC Cup group stage has consisted of six matches, with each team playing home and away. The 2021 version will see just three matches played in a neutral ‘hub’ which will present its own challenges, as Bali United face three matches in just seven days.

‘It is a different situation for the AFC Cup, going from playing at home to playing at a neutral venue this year. With only three matches, every match is very important to qualify from the group.

‘It’s not easy to find opponents to play against now as only one team from Liga 1 has started training. Hopefully next month all the teams will be back. Before playing the AFC Cup there is the President’s Cup, so we can use that to evaluate the form and fitness of the players,’ concluded Cugurra.

Group H has Malaysia’s Kedah Darul Aman, Lion City Sailors of Singapore, Vietnam’s Saigon FC and a play-off winner, while Group I comprises Kaya FC-Iloilo of the Philippines, Myanmar’s Shan United or Ayeyawady United, Terengganu FC of Malaysia and Geylang International FC of Singapore.

Group J, comprising East Zone teams, has Eastern Long Lions of Hong Kong, Tainan City of Chinese Taipei, Mongolia’s Athletic 220 and Hong Kong’s Lee Man.

The 2021 Cup is scheduled to kick off with the preliminary round on April 6 with the group stage matches to be played in centralised venues beginning May 14.

2021 AFC Cup Group Stage

Group A: Al Ahed FC (LBN), Al Hidd (BHR), Al Wahda (SYR), Al Nasr (OMA)
Group B: Al Salt (JOR), Balata Center (PLE), Al Ansar (LBN), Muharraq (BHR)
Group C: Tishreen (SYR), Al Seeb (OMA), Al Faisaly JOR), PLE-KUW P/O Winner
Group D: ATK Mohun Bagan (IND), Bashundhara Kings (BAN), Maziya Sports & Recreation (MDV), IND-BAN-NEP-SRI-MDV-BHU P/O Winner
Group E: FC Ravshan (TJK), FC Dordoi (KGZ), Ahal FC (TKM)
Group F: AGMK/Nasaf (UZB), Altyn Aysr (TKM), FC Khujand (TJK), FC Alay (KGZ)
Group G: Hanoi FC (VIE), Bali United (IDN), Boeung Ket (CAM), MYA-LAO-BRU P/O Winner
Group H: Kedah Darul Aman (MAS), Lion City Sailors (SIN), Saigon FC (VIE), IDN-CAM-TLS P/O Winner
Group I: Kaya FC-Iloilo (PHI), Shan United/Ayeyawady United (MYA), Terengganu FC (MAS), Geylang International (SIN)
Group J: Eastern Long Lions (HKG), Tainan City (TPE), Athletic 220 (MNG), Lee Man (HKG)

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