|By Khalis Rifhan
It was a forgettable outing for Tampines Rovers in the AFC Cup last year and with a platter of new players as well as a new coach, Nenad Bacina, the Stags will be looking to start on a right note against Sai Gon Xuan Thanh on Wednesday night in the new campaign.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon at the Royal Hotel, Bacina said: “Tampines players have few years of experience in the competition and I am expecting good football from my players and to compete with the other teams in the group. This is one of the strongest groups in the South East Asian region and we aim to qualify for the second round.”
Echoing the 42-year-old's sentiment was the club’s midfield lynchpin Mustafic Fahrudin who added: “ Last year's disappointment is a good lesson for us and we have a stronger squad this year. We definitely will do our best and qualify for the next round.”
Sai Gon Technical Director Lu Dinh Tuan also joined in the fray and declared that his side is not merely in the competition to make up the numbers.
“We target to go into the second round," he said.
"We want to do our best and contribute in this regional tournament.”
While the Stags looked the stronger of the two on paper, Bacina believes that Sai Gon is not a team to be underestimated.
“We respect our opponent and they are a quality side, qualifying for the AFC Cup in a very competitive and strong Vietnamese league," he added.
“Although they have made several changes to their squad, most of the players remain the same and despite losing the Charity Shield, they won their first league game and are quite a strong team with their three foreign players.”
While Lu Dinh Tuan was apparently sacked from his post after their 4-0 lost to Da Nang in the Super Cup, the former Vietnam national team coach was immediately installed as the club’s new Technical Director and believes that the mood in the dressing room has improved since.
“The attitude of our players was not good and was not normal for that match but since then, all is well," said Lu.
"They are now in high spirits after winning their league match (1-0 against Becamex Binh Dong).”
Also confident of a good showing at Jalan Besar stadium on Wednesday is the club's Cameroonian striker, Christian Nsi Amougou.
“We come here for a good result and the rest of the players are ready for the match," said Amougou.
"The Super Cup result was due to the players’ mentality. We played better in the league as there is the worry of relegation.”
Speaking to Goal.com Singapore after the press conference, Lu insisted that the club has appointed a new coach but declined to name the new guy at the helm.
The match between Tampines Rovers and Sai Gon Xuan Thanh will be played at the Jalan Besar stadium on Wednesday March 6. The match will kick off at 730pm.