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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: A TOUGH STEP


Participation in the AFC Champions League has always been a key objective of SCG Muangthong United. The continental competition is the gold standard of Asian football, as it offers the Kirin the opportunity to play against the best clubs in Asia and strive for improvement on an international scale. The campaign for continental glory is set to kick off again, with the visit of Malaysian League Champions Johor Darul Tazkim in the second qualification round.

Muangthong are coming off the back of impressive victories in pre-season. The Kirin won their first Toyota Mekong Club Championship with an emphatic 7-1 aggregate victory over Vietnamese side Sanna Khanh Hoa, before beating Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima on route to lifting the Leo Preseason Cup.

This match will mark the last game for captain Teerasil Dangda before his departure to Japan, joining J-League side Sanfrecce Hiroshima on loan. His replacement, Brazilian striker Jaja Coelho, could make his debut for the club in this match, depending on how coach Totchtawan assesses his readiness for the game. Jaja joins the Kirin after a highly successful campaign with Buriram United last season, where he scored 34 goals from 34 league appearances.

As for the opposition, JDT’s record in continental competition make them a formidable task for the Kirin. The trip to Bangkok will be a return to old haunts for the Malaysian club, as they have played all three of their AFC second-round qualifying games in the Thai capital. Their Champions League debut came in 2015, when the side were sent home after a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Bangkok Glass.

The Malaysian Champions played out a 0-0 draw against Muangthong during their previous meeting in 2016, with the Kirin eventually coming out on top after a penalty shootout. However, JDT would eventually succeed on their third attempt, beating Bangkok United on penalties last season to make it past their initial round of qualifying for the first time. A loss to Gamba Osaka in the following round sent the club into the AFC Cup, where they reached the ASEAN zone semi-finals.

JDT’s key players include Argentine striker Jorge Pereyra Diaz, who returns to the side after a loan spell with Club Leon in the Mexican League. Another key player is naturalized Malaysian midfielder Natxo Insa, who came through the academy of Spanish giants Valencia, and has more recently been a key player for top sides like Celta Vigo, Real Zaragoza and Levante among others.

The winner of this match will go on to face Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol in the last round of qualifying. Muangthong’s potential opponents finished 4th in the J-League last season, and reached the semi-finals of the Japanese Emperor’s Cup. Elsewhere, FA Cup winners Chiang Rai United will take on Indonesian Champions Bali United in their first ever AFC Champions League match. Former Kirin star and all-time Thai League top scorer Cleiton Silva will likely be amongst Chiang Rai’s key players for this historic game.

The opportunity to play against some of the best teams on the continent is one that absolutely can’t be missed by a club of Muangthong United’s stature and aspirations. The thrill of the qualifying rounds and promise of progression will be on full display as Muangthong United are set to host Johor Darul Takzim at the Supachalasai Stadium.


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