Buriram need new boys to make their mark in tough ACL opener

Buriram United begin their 2019 AFC Champions League (ACL) campaign under something of a cloud, having failed to win either of their first two Thai League fixtures.

The Thai champions are in Japan to face Urawa Reds, who lifted the trophy just 16 months ago, so they have their work cut out to get off to a positive start.

However, Buriram upset the odds by taking a point away to Guangzhou Evergrande on Matchday One last year and will be hoping for a similar outcome in Saitama.

Here are three things to look out for in Buriram United’s ACL clash with Urawa.

  1. Strikers have to step it up

While Diogo Luis Santo was scoring and putting on a man-of-match performance for JDT and Edgar Silva was scoring for Daegu against Jeonbuk Hyundai, Buriram’s new strikers drew a blank at the weekend.

Diogo and Edgar made for a formidable strike pairing in 2018 but they have since moved on, while Buriram wait for their replacements to prove themselves. Mali’s former West Ham striker Modibo Maiga hit the net in the Thailand Champions Cup last month but has yet to get off the mark in the league, while Pedro Junior’s late arrival means he has had little time to adjust.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

Most clubs in East Asia lean heavily on their foreign strikers for goals and now would be a good time for this pair to show what they are made of. Former Vissel Kobe and Kashima Antlers forward Pedro may be more likely to start given his familiarity with Japan and the fact that he has looked the sharper of the two.

Whoever has the opportunity is unlikely to get too many opportunities so they will have to make the most of any that come their way.

  1. Hosogai injury opens door for Xuan Truong

Injury has ruled Japanese midfielder Hajime Hosogai out of Buriram’s ACL squad, scuppering a sentimental return to the club where he spent the early years of his career. Hosogai won the ACL with Urawa Reds back in 2007, before his career took him to Germany for several years. Buriram no doubt had this kind of occasion in mind when they signed the 32-year-old from Kashiwa Reysol.

However, as one door closed, another one opened and the first two league games of the season have seen starts for Vietnam midfielder Luong Xuan Truong. With his country riding the crest of a wave in international football, the 23-year-old would love to make an impact on this stage and demonstrate that he is a more than adequate replacement for Hosogai.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

While he has recently been outshone by international team-mates like Nguyen Cong Phuong and Nguyen Quang Hai, Xuan Truong has long been considered one of the top young talents in Vietnam and he has made a solid start to life in Thailand.

With Jakkaphan Kaewprom also having fitness issues, Xuan Truong is line for another start and, with Asia watching, he will be determined to prove he belongs in this tournament.

  1. Urawa form leaves door open

At this stage of the tournament in particular, Japanese sides often see the ACL games as a time to rest players and tinker with the lineup. Buriram benefited last year when Cerezo Osaka sent a second string to Thailand and the hosts duly won 2-0.

Urawa have taken just one point from their opening two league games and were defeated at home to Chanathip Songkrasin’s Consadole Sapporo at the weekend. It would be no surprise to see Urawa’s starting lineup looking somewhat short of full strength as they try and ensure their top team is ready for Saturday’s trip to Matsumoto Yamaga.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

Whatever team Urawa plays, it will still be a huge challenge for Buriram to come away with a point or more. The visitors have yet to see their new strikers click and are not in the best shape to get a result,

However, if Bozidar Bandovic can instill the spirit that that saw them go unbeaten in the away fixtures in the group stage last year, Buriram may just do enough to take a point.

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