Kuwait Sports Club get their AFC Cup title defence under way tomorrow when they host Al Hilal of Yemen in their Group B opener. The Kuwaitis made history by winning the continental trophy for the first time last year under the leadership of former player Mohamed Abdullah.
"We will go into the competition as defending champions and this means that there will be a lot of pressure and responsibility on us," said Abdullah, who is now assistant to Brazilian Arthur Bernardes. "We will definitely look to retain our title after missing out the chance to play in the AFC Champions League and hopefully we can repeat what we did last year."
In Group A, Syria's Al Karamah host tournament debutants Saham from Oman at Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Stadium. Al Karamaha missed out on a place in the AFC Asian Champions League this year after losing 1-0 to Al Wahda in a play-off. "The first match is always hard as all the teams are aiming to register a good start and we are well aware of this," said coach Mohamad Kwid.
Shabab Al Ordon travel to Yemen to face Ahli Sana'a in the other game in the group, with Croatian coach Dragan Talajic keen to mastermind a first AFC Cup title for the Jordanians in three years. "Everyone knows that Shabab Al Ordun have previously won the competition and this year we have big ambitions to regain the title," said the 44-year-old. "We have good capabilities and we have good players who can compete."
Fellow Jordanians Al Wehdat will be hoping they can transfer their domestic form to the AFC Cup when they host Al Wayyan from Qatar in Group E. Thaer Jassam's side have won their last 11 league games to top the Jordan League, although they face an Al Rayyan side that scored four goals away from home in their last league match. "A good start in the competition is very important if we want to win the title," said Jassam. "We will try to get the valuable three points and take advantage of playing at home and in front of our fans."
Al Riffa on a roll
Also in Group E, Bahrain's Al Riffa will make their debut in the tournament when they travel to Al Nahda of Oman. Al Riffa recently won Bahrain's King's Cup and currently sit top of their domestic league, but coach Jose Garrido is wary because of his side's lack of continental experience. "The problem that we have is that our players don't have any experience in the Asian competitions and the players are taking part in the competition for the first time," he said.
In East Asia, last year's semi-finalists Binh Duong of Vietnam travel to Malaysia to tackle Selangor in Group F, and coach Mai Du Chung believes his side must show their opponents plenty of respect. Selangor boast plenty of Malaysia internationals and, although they are unable to field any foreign players in the tournament, Chung remains wary of the threat they will pose. "Selangor have current Malaysian internationals and also several under-23 players, who won the SEA Games last year when they beat Vietnam in the final," he said. "We have to give them the respect they are due even though they will be playing without foreigners."
Finally, Indonesia's Sriwijaya, who lost to Singapore Armed Forces in a qualifying play-off for the Asian Champions League last month, travel to the Maldives to face Victory SV.