Back in the AFC Cup after a 9-year absence, Terengganu FC are not looking to just make the numbers in the 2021 competition.
Circumstances dictated that Terengganu FC (TFC) would benefit from the truncated 2020 Malaysia football season following the cancellation of both the cup competition, the FA Cup and Malaysia Cup. A spot in the 2021 AFC Cup was initially reserved for the winner of the FA Cup, later transferred over to the Malaysia Cup after the former competition was first canceled before the resumption of competitions in 2020.
However rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country coupled with enforced stricter controls late in 2020 meant that the Malaysia Cup was also scrapped after the opening round and the AFC Cup spot went to the team who finished third in the Super League, which turned out to be TFC.
It has been a long wait for TFC to return to among the second biggest cup competition in Asia, having last featured in the 2012 season. When the draw was done by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Wednesday, they were drawn in Group I together with Geylang International (Singapore), Kaya FC (Philippines) and one of Ayeyawady United (Myanmar) or Shan United (Myanmar).
With Hanoi FC (Vietnam) and Lion City Sailors FC (Singapore) drawn to the other two ASEAN group, TFC are quietly optimistic of their chances of progressing to the next phase of the competition with Nafuzi Zain looking to make a big splash in his maiden continental outing as a head coach.
“Every team in the AFC Cup have good qualities and are the better teams from their respective countries. Based on the draw, we have to make sure that we do the right preparations to understand each opponent’s style and tactics. But that is no different from how we prepare for every match. We want to approach the competition in a positive manner,” said Nafuzi in a statement.
The situation in the continent also meant that AFC had to revise the competition format to a centralised location with only three matches played by each team in the group as opposed to the usual home and away format with each team competing through a series of six matches.
If Nafuzi can get his team to gel and perform at their level best during the May 14 to June 28 period, they can realistically aim to be among the four teams in the Zonal Semi-final that will include the three ASEAN group winners and the best runner-up from the three groups.