Buriram chairman: We want to reach another level in ACL

Nevin Chidchob, whose side became the first Asean team in a decade to qualify for the AFC Champions League quarter-finals last season, wants to go one better this term
Buriram United chairman Nevin Chidchob has declared that his team want to do better than they did last year in the AFC Champions League (ACL) this season, following the draw for the group stages on Tuesday.

The Thai club became the first Asean side in a decade to qualify for the quarter-finals of the ACL after trumping Uzbekistani side Bunyodkor 2-1 on aggregate last season, before losing 3-1 on aggregate to Iran's Esteghlal.

The Thunder Castle have qualified for the 2014 edition after winning the Thai Premier League (TPL) and will be making their fourth appearamce. They are also the only Southeast Asian club in the group stages proper and Nevin has challenged this team to exceed their showing last season.

"This year, we aim only for better - that means we must reach the semis, whereever the seeds bring us," he asserted.
"It's not about who's our opponent; it's about challenging ourself to reach another level."

Drawn in Group E with Korean champions Pohang Steelers, Chinese league runners-up Shandong Luneng and a as yet undecided Japanese side, Buriram will avoid the West Asian sides like Esteghlal under a new zoning system. This was made to ensure that the final will comprise one team each from East and West Asia, although it also means Buriram can meet the current holders if they progress to the next round.

"Zoning may sound good as we do not have to face those Arab clubs, but there's Guangzhou [Evergrande] anyway!" he pointed out.

Furthermore, TPL runners-up Muangthong United and third-placed side Chonburi FC have been allocated a slot each in Round 2 of the ACL play-offs, which means there could be as many as three Thai sides in the group stages eventually.

Muangthong will face the winners of the Round 1 tie between Vietnamese champions Hanoi T&T and Indian league runners-up Pune FC on February 8, with third-placed A-League side Melbourne Victory standing in their way on February 15 if they progress.

"Many will depict us as a struggling side that have to start from the play off round, and a tough group awaits," Muangthong's managing director Ronnarit Suevaja said.

"But to me, I only think about developing ourselves to be ready for these challenges.

"Every team in this tournament are surely strong sides. We've seen this for ourselves in last season, which gave us a clear vision on what we have to improve on."

Chonburi, meanwhile, will face the winners of the match between Singaporean champions Tampines Rovers and Hong Kong champions South China. China's third-placed team Beijing Guoan is next if they navigate Round 2 successfully.

"I'm looking for this day because now, we have a chance to reach that level again," striker Thiago Cunha said.,

"I'm craving to play in the ACL for Chonburi FC. It's not easy, but this time we'll make it to the group phase.

"I'll do my best since the first minute. If we can win the first leg, the next battle in China will be another tough test, which will motivate us a lot."

The 2014 ACL matches will start on February 25.