The football federations of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are combining forces with Japanese carmaker Toyota to launch the inaugural Toyota Mekong Club Championship at the end of this month.
Champions from each of the four nations will clash in semifinals at the Go Dau Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on October 31, with winners progressing to the grand final two days later. Losers will play a third-place playoff earlier in the day.
A major incentive for teams in the tournament will be the $75,000 cash prize for victory, while the runners-up will receive $50,000.
Cambodia’s representatives will be the Metfone C-League champions Phnom Penh Crown. They have been given the toughest of draws for their crucial semifinal, in which the team will face Eximbank V.League 1 conquerors Binh Duong FC on their home pitch.
The other matchup features Lao Premier League winners Hoang Anh Attapeu FC taking on Ayeyawady United, who recently edged Nay Pyi Daw 1-0 in the MFF Cup final.
Crown coach Sam Schweingruber has some slight concerns going into the event, with several of his key players currently on national team duty and Bin Chantha Thierry recovering from a knee injury.
“We are without the national team players until 11 days before the [Toyota Mekong Club Championship] – a serious challenge to ideal preparations,” Schweingruber told the Post.
“We know that on paper, the V.League is much stronger than our league in Cambodia and that the teams have bigger budgets and better players, more experience and so on.
“Binh Duong is a very good team and we need to prepare as well as possible, be ready to give our very best and then, with some luck, maybe we can surprise them.
“A lot of things will need to go perfect for us,” he added.
“It’s a great challenge and we don’t have that much to lose. We are the underdogs – that can help us.”
The Swiss tactician admitted to knowing little about his neighbouring opponents.
“So far I have only seen a few small clips of [Binh Duong’s] last games and I hope I can study them in more detail soon,” he said.
Crown’s foreign contingent are expected to “play an important role” in helping the club get the best possible result, according to the coach.
“From what we understand, we can register five foreign players and have four of them involved in the game,” Schweingruber added.
The tournament’s logo incorporates a blue football resting on a smiling red crocodile. A press release from the organisers stated that the crocodile represents the Mekong spirit and embodies the symbol of lasting legacy, having existed for millions of years.
“This mighty reptile signifies strength, power and tenacity and also epitomises the spirit of the Toyota Mekong Club Championship – a platform where challenges are met and dreams achieved,” the release said.