The Lion City Sailors may be out of the running to qualify for the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) 2023/24 knockout stages, but Wednesday’s clash against Kitchee SC at the Jalan Besar Stadium still holds much meaning.

Aleksandar Ranković’s team have their eyes set on writing their names into the Singapore football history books – by setting a new record for the maximum number of points a Singaporean team has attained in the ACL group stage.

The Sailors are third in Group F with six points, and a win in what is their last competitive game of the season will ensure they break their own record of seven from last year’s campaign.

Although Kitchee are also not in contention to make the next round, sitting bottom of Group F with one point, the match is still set to be a tightly contested affair.

“We deserved a better result against Bangkok, but we’re totally prepared and motivated for this match. We want to finish strong, especially after the Singapore Cup final, and we want maximum points from tomorrow’s match,” said Ranko, adamant that his charges are not still swooning over the weekend’s Cup Final victory, and instead are determined to bounce back from the loss against Group F leaders Bangkok United on 29 November.

“With the format change in the ACL (the Sailors will be in the ACL2 next season), this will be our last chance in this competition and we want to leave our own legacy.”

Defender Lionel Tan added that national pride also serves as encouragement for the team.

“We’re out there to get every possible point and do our best not just for the club, but for the whole of Singapore. We’re very motivated to do our best and thank the fans for their overwhelming support during the Cup final,” the 26-year-old said.

Although the Sailors picked up a 2-1 win in October at the Hong Kong Stadium, they are not taking anything for granted, and instead are wary of the threats Kitchee pose.

The away side are enjoying a strong start to their domestic season, sitting second in the Hong Kong Premier League after eight matches and qualifying for the Hong Kong Senior Shield final.

Interim coach Kim Dong-jin was adamant that they have only one goal on their minds on Wednesday – win.

“We didn’t win the last five games (in this competition), so I want a win tomorrow although we lost against them previously. The Sailors are in good form having won the Cup with a good atmosphere and have strong foreign attacking players, so we need to be good defensively,” said the former South Korean international.

They will be missing key players though, with Brazilian goalkeeper Paulo César, compatriots Mikael and Juninho, as well as Turkmenistan winger Ruslan Mingazov ruled out through suspensions and injuries, while new acquisition Sherzod Temirov is not in the matchday squad.

However, Kitchee have an in-form man in Austrian Jakob Jantscher, who has scored in his last four ACL appearances, including against the Sailors.

They are also boosted by Sailors old boy Kim Shin-wook’s return from injury, with coach Kim hinting at a possible start for the 35-year-old striker.

“I brought him here because we need him and he has experience playing in this country and on this pitch. I know he scored 21 league goals here (in 2022), so I’m sure he can score tomorrow,” he said.

The Sailors are well familiar with Shin-wook’s quality – he racked up a total of 24 goals in 35 appearances in a Lion City Sailors shirt in 2022, including a stunning acrobatic volley on his Sailors debut in a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata (S) in last year’s AIA Community Shield, inspiring the Sailors to its first Community Shield win in its history.

“We have to be aware of what he can do, he’s strong and big, he has a lot of experience and is a quality player. Many of our players have played with him and they are aware of that,” Ranko said.

“Our motivation tomorrow is still to make sure we set the record number of ACL points, and represent Singapore football well.”