Ratchaburi’s lucky break sets up all-ASEAN ACL clash with JDT

Ratchaburi FC are set for an ASEAN derby against Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) as the demise of Chinese champions Jiangsu Suning has handed them a place in the group stages of AFC Champions League (ACL) 2021.

The Dragons were due to take on Pohang Steelers in a playoff for a spot in Group G. But the shock announcement that the 2020 Chinese Super League champions were to cease operations meant that an extra place opened up in the draw.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) are now expected to confirm that both Ratchaburi and Pohang will take their places alongside Malaysian champions JDT and J.League side Nagoya Grampus.

It will be Ratchaburi’s first participation in the competition and they will be particularly excited by the prospect of a clash against JDT. The seven-time Malaysian champions have the top domestic talents, including Safawi Rasid and Akhyar Rashid, while they also have Singapore skipper Hariss Harun and former Lazio centre-back Mauricio.

Nagoya Grampus will also make for formidable opponents, having finished third in the 2020 J.League season. The Japanese side won 1-0 at home to Chanathip Songkrasin’s Consadole Sapporo at the weekend, with their Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak in fine form.

Pohang Steelers complete a tough group, having finished third in the K League last year. Pohang have pedigree in the tournament and have lifted the trophy three times, most recently in 2009.

Ratchaburi will hope that their form picks up between now and their first scheduled match on April 21st. Since clinching an ACL playoff spot with a fourth-place finish in the first half of the 2020-21 Thai League campaign, the Dragons have lost form, winning just three of their last 12 league matches and slipping down to eighth place in the process.

But the side from the province 100 kilometres west of Bangkok have at least one player with the right pedigree for the competition. In the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League campaign, Ratchaburi’s Martinique winger Steeven Langil scored the winning goal for Auxerre against the Ajax of Luis Suarez, Christian Eriksson, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.

Paul Murphy

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