Port FC and Buriram United are both 90 minutes away from a playoff in the AFC Champions League (ACL) as they prepare to face Ceres Negros and Ho Chi Minh City respectively.

Port look to have the easier of the two ties as they look for the reward of a trip to Japan and a clash with F.C. Tokyo in the playoff. If Buriram can negotiate a tricky tie against the Vietnamese side, they visit Shanghai SIPG.

Reward for Rochela as ACL comes to PAT Stadium

Port FC skipper David Rochela has seen some ups and downs in almost five years at the club, but his persistence has been rewarded with Port now genuine T1 challengers and reigning FA Cup winners. He is relishing the opportunity of an ACL clash in front of the fanatical Port FC faithful.

“I think it’s very important for all of us,” said Rochela. “Since I arrived here, we have played in T2 after being relegated, so we have had to fight a lot to be in this position.

“It’s a big dream to play ACL with Port FC at home. I hope we can have a great game and I’m sure the atmosphere will be amazing as always.”

Former Ceres player Martin Steuble is now with the Bangkok club and when Rochela was asked what advice the Filipino international had been offering his new teammates, the Spaniard was giving nothing away.

“He told us secrets but I cannot tell you here,” said Rochela. “I’m very happy to have him at the club. He’s a great guy who is very professional and a really good player. Of course, he tries to help us in any way he can.”

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Ceres skipper Stephan Schrock followed his head coach’s example in playing down his team’s chances at the PAT Stadium. Risto Vidakovic bemoaned his team’s limited preparation time and his captain echoed those sentiments.

“We always compete to win but we also have to look at the circumstances,” said Schrock. “As the coach said, we have had only 7-8 training sessions until this point. Port FC is a very good club with very good players and we would love to have this match at a different point in the year when we are better prepared physically and as a team.

“But we take it as it is and there are always good things to see at this point because we have nothing to lose. There is not much expectation, not many people would bet a dime on us, so it’s an enjoyable game, there’s no pressure and we don’t get that many times in a season.”

Buriram hope to summon spirit of 2013

In the northeast of the country, Buriram United find themselves in an ACL qualifier for the first time since 2013. That year, they edged past Brisbane Roar on penalties before progressing to the quarterfinals – their best ever performance in the competition.

It would be a remarkable achievement just to reach the group stage this time around as, even if they beat Ho Chi Minh City at home, they will then have to defeat Shanghai SIPG in China next week.

Buriram must first take care of business against the Vietnamese champions, which promises to be a tough match. Hanoi FC came to Thailand and beat Bangkok United at the same stage last year, so Ho Chi Minh will not be taken lightly.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

The home side will have fitness concerns over the three attacking talents who starred for Thailand in the AFCU23 Championships, but Supachok Sarachat may be pressed into service, while Suphanat Mueanta and Supachai Jaided are more likely to stay on the bench.

Buriram’s new attackers are under pressure to deliver following the failure of all four of the 2019 recruits to impress. Argentina’s Bernardo Cuesta will be expected to provide the firepower that takes the former Thai champions into the playoff round.

Buriram have plenty of experience at this level and this may be a key factor, and they have a backline that knows each other inside out. But Bozidar Bandovic’s men often looked laboured in their transitions last year and rarely controlled matches in the way they have become accustomed to.

The match against Ho Chi Minh is a chance to not only move within one match of the ACL group stage, but also an opportunity to indicate that Buriram look equipped to regain their position as Thai champions in 2020.