Chiangrai United are now relatively experienced at the continental level, as they prepare for their third group stage campaign. The side have changed very little since their debut group stage outing in late 2020, though enjoyed improved results last time out. The side collected 8 points, with two wins against Singapore’s Tampines Rovers and highly respectable 1-1 draws against Japanese outfit Gamba Osaka.
However, their league form ahead of this competition leaves a lot to be desired. The Beetles have won just three of their last ten games, with their place in the top four now in serious jeopardy. Their failure to beat basement-dwelling Chiangmai United and relegation-threated Suphanburi at home in their last two matches is surely a huge missed opportunity.
However, the Beetles have shown their ability to raise their game for continental competitions in the past, regardless of their domestic form. They will be eager to repeat the feat over the next couple of weeks in the hunt for their first ever knockout stage appearance.
Due to the last-second withdrawal of Shanghai Port FC, Chiangrai’s Group J will only have three teams. Hong Kong Champions Kitchee and J.League giants Vissel Kobe will be facing off against the Beetles in Buriram.
Kitchee will come into the tournament with plenty of experience against Thai opposition. They have been touring the country in recent weeks, and have faced off against Chonburi FC, Bangkok United and Port FC among others. They also faced off against the latter in last seasons’ Champions League group stage, where they managed a 2-0 win and 1-1 draw against the Bangkok club.
Like Chiangrai, Kitchee’s primary game plan is to soak up pressure and hit on the counter-attack. They are incredibly disciplined off the ball and pose a strong physical threat to any Thai opposition, and are spearheaded by Montenegrin striker Dejan Damjanovic, who is the competition’s all-time top scorer after prolific spells with the likes of FC Seoul, Jiangsu Sainty and Suwon Bluewings. Despite recently turning 40, he is still one to be wary of.
Meanwhile, Vissel Kobe are in extremely poor form domestically ahead of this competition. After an impressive third-placed finish last season, the side sit in second from bottom with six losses and no wins from their opening ten games. The side sacked head coach Atsuhiro Miura after the poor start, and are now coached by Miguel Angel Lotina, formerly of Cerezo Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse.
Undoubtedly Kobe’s most famous player, Andres Iniesta will likely be the main attraction for local fans and journalists, along with his countrymen and fellow La Masia graduates Bojan Krkic and Sergi Samper. The club recently added Japanese international strikers Yuya Osako and Yoshinori Muto to their squad, joining from Werder Bremen and Newcastle United respectively.
Despite their recent struggles, Kobe are clearly the outright favourites to win the group. The Beetles’ matches against Kitchee will likely be tightly contested, while they will hope to use their home advantage to spring a surprise against the Japanese outfit.
Players to Watch
As mentioned previously, Chiangrai United’s squad has changed very little over the past three years. In midfield, captain Phitiwat Sukjithammakul and chief playmaker Siwakorn Tiatrakul continue to dominate. Both players are on strong form of late, and should be well rested after staying with their clubs during the recent international break. They have already established themselves on the continent against formidable opposition, and should be ready to go toe-to-toe with their opponents this time around.
Up front, the Beetles have added new Brazilian striker Getterson from Al-Ain (Saudi Arabia) to their attacking lineup. Replacing Bill Rosimar at the head of Chiangrai’s attack, he may not be as prolific or as ‘pure a finisher,’ but is certainly a more potent option on the counter-attack. He will partner Felipe Amorim up top, who is currently in the middle of his best Thai League campaign thus far.