The Lion City Sailors will face opposition from China, Japan, and either Korea or Thailand in their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) debut later this year. This was revealed earlier this afternoon (17 January) at the ACL draw conducted virtually in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. 

The Sailors, 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions, are placed in Group F (East Zone) along with reigning Chinese Super League (CSL) champions Shandong Taishan, Japanese Emperor’s Cup holders Urawa Red Diamonds and the winner of the playoff between K League 1 second runners-up Daegu FC and Thai powerhouse Buriram United. 

The 2022 edition of Asia’s flagship club competition continues in the 40-team expanded format introduced last year, with both the East and West regions featuring five groups of four teams. The five group winners and the best three runner-ups from each region will then advance into the Round of 16. 

Group-stage matches will be played on a double round-robin basis in centralised venues between April 15 to May 1, with the Round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals – all single-leg – scheduled for August. The grand final will be played over two legs in February 2023. 

The Sailors face a challenging group, against teams who have featured in the ACL on numerous occasions in the past.  

Shandong – China’s defending league and cup champions – boast several China internationals, as well as former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini in their ranks. Fellaini will come up against a familiar foe in Sailors’ midfielder Hariss Harun, who was skipper of the Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) side that suffered narrow 1-0 and 2-1 losses to Shandong in the 2019 group stages. 

Urawa have ACL pedigree, having won the competition twice in 2007 and 2017 as well as finishing runners-up in 2019. Amongst their squad is a seasoned Japanese international in Hiroki Sakai, who returned to play domestically in Japan after almost a decade away in Europe with Hannover 96 and Marseille. 

Daegu reached the ACL Round of 16 in 2021, while Buriram have recently re-signed Theerathon Bunmathan to add to their array of Thai stars including Narubadin Weerawatnodom, Supachai Chaided and Suphanat Mueanta and are currently atop the Thai League 1 standings. 

The Sailors can count on the expertise of head coach Kim Do-hoon, who led Ulsan Hyundai to the 2020 ACL title, while the addition of experienced forward Kim Shin-wook, who won the competition twice in 2012 and 2016 with Ulsan and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors respectively, will also come in handy. 

“We’re looking forward to the challenge of testing ourselves against the best in Asia, even as we continue to strengthen and build capabilities at the club,” said Sailors Chief Executive, Chew Chun-Liang. 

“Coach Kim and the team are under no illusions about the task that lies ahead in the ACL, but plans have been made, and the team are working hard so we can fly the Singapore flag with pride when the competition kicks off.”