Tampines set to face South China in ACL play-off

The chairman of the 2013 Hong Kong First Division champions says his side will travel to Singapore next year to play the S.League champions, who have confirmed the fixture
Tampines Rovers look set to face Hong Kong side South China AA in the first hurdle of their AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifying quest, in which they are participating for the first time.

The S.League champions were granted a slot in the play-offs for the 2014 edition of Asia's elite football tournament, with Goal Singapore having earlier reported on November 25 that they stood a chance should there be an expansion of the competition.

According to Steven Lo Kit-Sing, chairman of the 2012/13 Hong Kong First Division champions, his side will travel to Singapore to face the Stags on February 2 next year.

Lo revealed this on Thursday in a video that he posted to his official blog column on South China's official website.

"We just received the latest news from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) regarding the ACL play-off today," he said in Cantonese.

"For now, they have arranged for us to play the first round of our ACL play-off campaign on February 2 against Tampines Rovers of Singapore. If the game ends in a draw after extra time, penalties will be used to decide the winner.

"If we win, we will have to play on February 8 as we fly to Thailand to take on Chonburi FC, which will also be a knockout tie. If we get past them, we will fly to China one week later to take on Guizhou Renhe on February 15]."

Tampines posted on their official Facebook page this morning the same set of dates but added that if they win, they will face either Chonburi or Muangthong. The post also read that the winners of the game on February 8 will play Beijing Guoan or Shandong Luneng on the 15th, instead of Guizhou Renhe.

The Stags will fall back into the AFC Cup if they are defeated in any of the three rounds.

With all the games to be played away from home, provided they navigate their way through successfully, Lo is under no illusions about the toughness of the task his side has ahead of them.

"I believe this will be a grueling schedule for the club, as we are currently experiencing a cooler, winter-climate weather," he explained.

"To fly to Singapore, which will be warmer, for the first game and then to an even hotter city in Bangkok if we advance [will be difficult]. Then if we win, we will have to travel back to China, which will be very cold in February, around one to two degrees."

But 54-year-old vows that they will still give their all in a bid to qualify for the first time.

"We need everyone to unite and work hard and hope that we can make it to the ACL proper," Lo exhorted. "It will be hard for us to cope with the schedule but we will definitely do our best."

This will be South China's second time in the ACL play-offs, having beaten S.League side Home United in Round 2 of East Zone qualification for the 2002/03 edition, before losing 8-1 to Shimizu S-Pulse in Round 3 to fall short at the last hurdle.

Singapore Armed Forces FC (now Warriors FC) were Singapore's first-ever representatives in the competition, playing in the 2009 and 2010 editions under the guidance of Richard Bok. They notched their first-ever point in the competition with a 1-1 draw against Shanghai Shenhua in 2009, before going one better by beating Henan Jianye to register a historic first victory in 2010.

Both Warriors and Tampines took part in the 2013 AFC Cup but crashed out after finishing bottom of their respective groups, with only the former managing to register a victory.