Cambodian League Champions Boeung Ket, fresh from their victory over Lao Toyota in the qualification playoff, are now in the city of Bacolod on the northwest coast of Negros island in the Philippines to open their AFC Cup Group stage campaign against popular local outfit Ceres Negros, who have just returned home from a good run in the AFC Champions League.
The Group F starter kicks off at 6:30pm Cambodian time on Tuesday at the Panaad Stadium, where the Busmen, as the Negros are fondly known, will clash with Boeung Ket.
A strong showing is what both sides will be hoping for ahead of the upcoming top-flight league seasons in Cambodia and the Philippines, which both open on March 3.
After edging Lao Toyota on the back of Khoun Laboravy’s goal in Vientiane to book their Group F place, the Cambodian champs face a sterner test of strength and character against teams with well established credentials like Negros, Shan United of Myanmar and Home United of Singapore.
It has been a gratifying sight for interim coach Keo Kosal, who replaced the league winning Hao Socheat on a technicality, to see strong performances in the double-leg encounter against Lao Toyota, but the former national player and assistant coach of Svay Rieng is fully aware of the step up in the quality of the opposition that his team will have to deal with.
The visitors will lean on the goal scoring abilities of Brazilian Maycon Calijuri and Cambodia star Laboravy.
After edging Shan United in Yangon on a penalty shootout, Serbian coach Risto Vidakovic’s side overpowered Brisbane 3-2 in Australia, with Spanish signing Bienvenido Maranon and Filipino-Iranian Omid Nazari hauling them over the line.
But that dream run, however, came to an end in China where, in the extreme cold of Tianjin, the side lost to Qauanjian 2-0.
While the Serbian is happy that the team is free from injuries and suspensions, his worry is that some of his new players will not have had enough playing time.
On paper, Ceres look a much stronger and well-knit outfit than their rivals from Cambodia, but Vidakovic is guarded in his optimism by insisting Boeung Ket deserve respect.
In the next two home games at the Olympic Stadium, Boeung Ket meet Shan United on February 27 and Home United on March 6. The team travels to Singapore for the return leg on March 14 before hosting Negros on April 11. They wind up their campaign on April 25 in Yangon against Shan United.