AFC Cup journey commences

Dempo Sports Club will have to pick themselves up from the disappointment of missing out on a place at the AFC Champions League when they get their AFC Cup campaign under way against Al Tilal at Shiv Chhatrapati Stadium today.

The Indian side lost 2-0 to Al Sadd of Qatar in an Asian Champions League play-off recently but coach Armando Colaco has called on his players to put that result behind them and focus on the campaign ahead.

"We were distinctly unlucky against Al Sadd but there is no point crying over it. Instead, we need to focus on the AFC Cup," he said. "The AFC Cup is one tournament we have done well in the past four seasons. This time we are stronger than ever before. I believe we can go the distance this time around."

Dempo and Al Tilal are in Group A of the tournament along with Nasaf of Uzbekistan and Lebanese side Al Ansar, with those two sides meeting at Karshi Central Stadium.

Title defence
In Group B, last year's winners Al Ittihad begin their title defence against Al Saqr at Ali Mohsen Al Muraisi Stadium. Like Dempo, they too must recover from missing out on an Asian Champions League berth after they too were beaten by Al Sadd. "We want to win against Al Saqr to have a good start," said Al Ittihad coach Kemal Alispahic. "I'm confident that we can beat them because we have better individual skills."

Beaten finalists Al Qadsia are in the same group as Al Ittihad and they face a potentially tricky encounter with Shurtan in their opening game.

In Group E, Syrians Al Karamah host Al Arouba of Oman Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Stadium while Al Ahed of Lebanon tackle Iraqis Arbil.

In East Asia, Indonesia's Sriwijaya have just 15 players available for their Group F game against VB of the Maldives at Jaka Baring Stadium due to injury, suspensions or international duty. "Our situation cannot be worse than this," lamented coach Ivan Kolev. "We are short of players, having only 15 players to be submitted. It means we will only have four options on the bench."

In the other game in the group, Song Lam Nghe An of Vietnam host Hong Kong side TSW Pegasus at Vinh Stadium. Key striker Kalvin Bryan is struggling to be fit for the game, but coach Nguyen Huu Thang has faith in the players at his disposal to cover for his potential absence, particularly in midfield. He said: "With Kalvin injured, my side will face the challenge of scoring goals. However, I believe we can make use of the firepower behind the forwards."