Safiq Rahim's JDT primed for ACL playoff vs. Muang Thong
Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) skipper Safiq Rahim hopes his team can take inspiration from Malaysia's under-23 side as they look to reach the AFC Champions League (ACL) playoff round when they face Muang Thong United in the Second Preliminary Round on Tuesday.
The Young Tigers defied expectations to reach the quarterfinals of the AFC U23 Championship in China, defeating Asian giants Saudi Arabia before losing narrowly to South Korea.
And Safiq believes that JDT can be the next Malaysian side to upset the odds by beating the Thai League runners-up in Bangkok to earn a place in a playoff against Kashiwa Reysol in Japan next week.
"For me, it was good for Malaysian football and we also bring some success for Malaysia in the ACL qualifying," Safiq said.
"Now we want to go to the next stage. We want to create history for Malaysian football also and go for the first time as the first team qualifying for the ACL group (stage).
"It was great for Malaysia to qualify for the quarterfinals of the AFC (U23) Cup because it brings some attention for national football."
Muang Thong go into this game knowing that striker Teerasil Dangda and left-back Theerathon Bumnathan may be playing their finals games for the club before heading for loan spells in the J.League.
But Safiq dismissed suggestions that this might make the home side even more motivated for ACL success.
"We know that Teerasil and Theerathon are national team players and we know they are more experienced because they played in the ACL last year," Safiq said.
"We know that Muang Thong is a good team -- one of the best teams in the Thai League.
"But we must fight and do it for our dreams. For me, we are looking at our own team. We also have a good team and have reached this stage three times already and this year we want to go further."
Muang Thong midfielder Charyl Chappuis missed out in his side's run to the Round of 16 last year as he joined the Kirins midway through the season.
The Swiss-Thai had previously played in the ACL with former club Buriram United, and he is keen to get the opportunity to play in Asia's top tournament for his new team.
"Of course, it's very important (to play in the ACL)," Chappuis said. "I joined Muang Thong because of how they played last year. It was really impressive. I'm happy to be here now and have the chance to play Champions League again."
Chappuis has played against Malaysian sides several times at international level, including the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup when he scored in both legs of Thailand's final victory against the Harimau Malaya.
And he is looking forward to another opportunity to play against a side from Thailand's Southeast Asian neighbours.
"I have really good memories of this [rivalry with Malaysia]," Chappuis said. "I played in the Suzuki Cup 2014, and I also know some of their players, including Safiq.
"It was always a big fight against them and there is always a big rivalry between us. So I'm really looking forward to the game. I know they have a great team, with a lot of national team players, but we also have some great players .
"I think it will be an interesting game. We are playing at home and our target is to play in the Champions League this year."
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK