Rejuvenated Pahang look to take improved form into AFC Cup
Malaysian double Cup champions Pahang can move a big step closer to booking their place in the knockout stages of the AFC Cup when they host Myanmar's Yadanarbon in Group G on Wednesday night.
In a group dominated by South China, Pahang at least have the luxury of knowing their decisive last two AFC Cup ties will not feature the Hong Kong side. With four wins from their four games, including a home and away double over Zainal Abidin's side, South China's place in the knock out stage is assured. What is less clear is who goes through with them.
Pahang and Global, from the Philippines, share four points while Yadanarbon sit bottom on three points. Pahang know that three points against the Myanmar outfit will go a long way to securing their place in the next phase.
After a slow start to the season, the Kuantan-based side are starting to find their form with four wins in the last five Malaysia Super League (MSL) games. They have also reached the FA Cup semifinals after edging Penang in the quarterfinals.
A win for Pahang in front of their own fans could virtually confirm their spot in the next phase, especially were South China to overcome Global. Their reward would be a tie away to either Persipura Jayapura, of Indonesia or India's Bengalaru.
At least the fate of the East Coast side is fairly straightforward. The position is less clear for fellow Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).
They may be top of their group with nine points from their four group games but their lead is a narrow one. Hong Kong side Kitchee are second with seven points and East Bengal with four points will feel they still have a lot to say in the group. JDT head to East Bengal this week in turmoil after the club "rested" coach Bojan Hodak following a 2-1 reverse at Perak in the Malaysia Super League.
East Bengal is never an easy place to play in and it remains to be seen how the JDT players will react to Hodak's ouster. New head coach Mario Gomez, an Argentine who has been working in Hong Kong, is due to arrive in Malaysia on Friday.
With Kitchee sure to fancy their chances against a Balestier Khalsa side who have little chance of qualifying it promises to be a nervy night for the Malaysian champions.
While the future of the Malaysian sides is unclear what of the Indonesian representatives? Persipura Jayapura have already confirmed their spot in the knockout phase and could well use their home tie against the pointless S.League champions Warriors FC to rotate their squad.
Indonesia Super League champions Persib Bandung head to the Maldives to take on New Radiant knowing three points will confirm their place in the next round. The Blue Princes are unbeaten in their four group stage games having won both their home games and picked up draws on their travels.
Without the services of striker Ilija Spasojevic who was signed after the AFC deadline, Persib have looked to Yandi Munawar, Tantan and Konate Makan for goals while former international Atep has chipped in with three during the campaign.
While both Persib and Persipura have been getting the results on the field, their biggest opponents are lurking in the Swiss lakeside city of Geneva.
With the current stand off between the government and the football association showing no sign of letting up there remains a very real possibility both sides could be disqualified should FIFA decide to take action against the PSSI over alleged government interference.
For all the permutations and notes of caution there is a real possibility Southeast Asia could be represented by four sides in the next stage and that has to be a plus for football in the region.