AFC Cup 2020 ASEAN Zone: The 6 big questions ahead of Match Day 1

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

With the ASEAN Zone action of AFC Cup 2020 set to get underway on Tuesday, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan previews the upcoming action ahead of Match Day 1.

Will Hougang United start off with a win on debut?

Having previously never placed higher than 6th in the Singapore Premier League (previously known as the S.League), Hougang United had a 2019 to remember as they finished third on the table – sealing a maiden continental appearance in the process.

The Cheetahs may have lost Singapore internationals Faris Ramli, Afiq Yunos and Zulfahmi Arifin to overseas clubs Terengganu, Trat and Suphanburi respectively, but have retained a large majority of last season’s squad while reinforcing with the likes of Zac Anderson, Sahil Suhaimi and Anders Aplin.

Hougang United had a 2019 to remember as they achieved their highest-ever league finish.

On Tuesday, they take on Lao Toyota, who conceded 20 goals in six matches in the tournament last year, so it might not be that absurd that Hougang head into their AFC Cup debut as heavy favourites.

Can Yangon United challenge for top honours?

In the past two campaigns, Yangon United have produced a couple of starkly contrasting displays and it remains to be seen which outfit will turn up in 2020.

Two years ago, they did well to reach the ASEAN Zone semi-finals, only to flatter to deceive in 2019 as they were eliminated at the group stage after losing four of their six matches.

At their best, the Myanmar National League outfit can certainly match with the best the region has to offer and only time will tell if Yangon will deliver on their promise to challenge for the ASEAN Zone crown.

Are Bali United going to make amends for horror show in 2018?

They have had 12 months of soul searching to do, so Bali United should have no excuses this time around if they produce another insipid campaign like they did back in 2018.

Despite boasting a formidable team on paper, Bali managed just one win from six matches as they finished bottom of Group G.

The signs are more promising in 2020 as they beat Tampines Rovers 5-3 in the first preliminary round of qualifying for the AFC Champions League before losing 5-0 to Melbourne Victory in the next stage, and they will have the perfect chance – in front of their home fans – to show how far they have come when they take on Than Quang Ninh on Tuesday.

Ceres-Negros – the team to beat once more?

Ceres-Negros are really starting to relish playing on the continental stage and once again fell just short of reaching the AFC Champions League proper, losing 2-0 to FC Tokyo in a qualifying playoff where they were far from outplayed.

That defeat means that it will be AFC Cup action for the Busmen once again this season, but they should be relishing an opportunity to repeat their heroics of 2017 when they went all the way to be crowned champions of the ASEAN Zone.

In what should serve as a warning to their rivals, Ceres could even have a stronger squad than previous years having brought in the likes of Manny Ott, Mark Hartmann, James Younghusband and Hikaru Minegishi over recent months.

Do Than Quang Ninh and Ho Chi Minh City have what it takes to fill Hanoi void?

Vietnamese football’s remarkable rise in the past two years was further amplified last year as Hanoi FC were crowned ASEAN Zone champions and then went on to beat the Central Zone’s Altyn Asyr and reach the inter-zone final, where they were ultimately beaten on away goals by 4.25 SC of DPR Korea.

But with Hanoi banned from taking part in continental competition this year, it will be Than Quang Ninh and Ho Chi Minh City that will fly the flag for Vietnam.

Quang Ninh have experience from their previous appearance while Ho Chi Minh have made a number of eye-catching signings over the off-season, but it remains to be seen if either are capable of emulating what was an all-conquering Hanoi outfit that scored a staggering 35 goals in 14 games.

Can Tampines Rovers bounce back from recent heartbreak?

Tampines Rovers certainly had reason to feel hard done by last term, heading into the final round of group-stage matches on top of Group F and on course for the knockout round.

Despite a 2-0 defeat to Hanoi being their only loss, they were incredibly pipped to the best runners-up spot by Becamex Binh Duong, who themselves claimed a remarkable 1-0 win over Ceres – who had won all five of their previous games – to finish level on 13 points but with a superior goal difference over Tampines by a single strike.

This year, the Stags were also on course to reach the second qualifying round of the ACL as they led Bali 3-2 only to lose 5-3 after extra-time, and will certainly be looking to avoid further heartbreak in AFC Cup 2020, starting with Wednesday’s home tie against another Indonesian side in PSM Makassar.