Old rivalries will be renewed and new faces await their chance to take maiden bows in the preliminary round of the RHB Singapore Cup 2012 competition, after the draw was completed at Bugis Junction on a hot and bright Sunday afternoon.
A grand total of 16 sides will feature in this year’s tournament, including three foreign invitee outfits making their first appearances.
The inclusion of Loyola Meralco Sparks means that there will be a Filipino presence in Singapore’s premier football knockout cup tournament for the very first time, while Yotha FC become the first Laotian side to play in the tournament as well.
Also making their debut are Myanmar National League title contenders Kanbawza FC, following the lead of Okkthar United in last year’s competition.
Cambodian side Phnom Penh Crown continue their lengthy association with the competition as well, while Malaysia’s Harimau Muda will be represented by the junior side playing in their country’s Premier League, as their senior counterparts prepare for the AFC Under-22 Asian Cup qualifiers in June.
But the game of the first round will feature another foreign team already playing in the S.League – current leaders DPMM FC of Brunei, who have been drawn against defending champions Home United.
The draw was based on how twelve players, representing eleven S.League clubs and the Harimau Muda junior side, fared at a juggling competition held amid cheers from teammates, supporters and other members of the public spending their afternoon at Bugis.
The competition sorted the twelve teams based on how long their representative players managed to keep the ball off the ground, with Albirex Niigata (Singapore)’s Yutaka Nishi finishing top by lasting the full regulation period of five minutes.
Finishing second was SAFFC’s Erwan Gunawan, while Home fullback Jeremy Chiang had the misfortune of recording the shortest time, placing the Protectors at twelfth seed.
With the juggling competition split into three separate pools, spectators had little idea of the twelve teams’ exact placings, apart from knowing that Albirex were in top spot.
It was only when all the players had finished that the draw tree was unveiled, with each team’s name filled into the appropriate slots as ESPNStar host Colette Wong announced the results of the juggling competition.
Home coach Lee Lim Saeng was positive about the outcome of the draw, as he braced himself for a tough start against the Bruneians.
“I am looking forward to it,” he declared.
“It doesn’t matter whether we had drawn a local team or a foreign one. Of course our draw against the Brunei team is a tough one, but we are out to win the Singapore Cup, and if we overcome the strong teams first, it is an advantage in the later stages.
“I have no knowledge of the four foreign teams, but I hope they are good, strong teams. This will be good for the S.League.”
Albirex, who were losing finalists last year, have been drawn against top-tier side Yotha, who feature numerous Laos internationals, including former Thai Premier League striker Lamnao Singto.
White Swans vice-chairman Koh Mui Tee was happy to face the newcomers, whom he felt will pose a refreshing challenge.
“They are the Lao League champions, and they comprise a few national team players,” he said of Yotha.
“I understand they are one of the best teams in the country. But we will be out to go one better than how we did last year, and we will not take our opponents lightly, whoever they may be.”
Also facing foreign opponents in the opening round are Geylang United, who won the RHB Singapore Cup as recently as 2009.
They meet Loyola, who play in the semi-professional United Football League in the Philippines and boast among their stars two pairs of brothers, the Chelsea-trained Younghusbands and the Portsmouth-trained Hartmanns.
While reigning S.League champions Tampines Rovers and Woodlands Wellington also feature in the same half of the draw as Geylang and Albirex, Kanan Vedhamuthu felt his Eagles were fortunate not to be pooled into the all-S.League half of the draw tree.
“For Geylang, it seems an easier draw than the next group,” commented the 47-year-old.
“The stronger teams from our group look to be Albirex and Tampines, although I am not too certain how strong the four invited teams are. That said, we are not doing so well in the league, so the Cup has become a priority.
“We will respect the team we are drawn against in the first match, and we look to progress from there.
“I have only just come to know they have some key players of calibre and quality, so we will need to be prepared against this Philippine team. We should take nothing for granted.”
Should Geylang beat the Sparks, their quarterfinals opponents will be either Woodlands or Kanbawza, while Tampines have to overcome Phnom Penh Crown if they are to book a slot in the last eight.
The winners of the Home-DPMM clash will face either SAFFC or Balestier Khalsa, while Tanjong Pagar United face Hougang United and Gombak United are paired with the Harimau Muda Under-19s coached by Ismail Ibrahim.
With the first of the preliminary matches scheduled to take place on 14 May, the adrenaline rush of the region’s premier knockout tourney is set to be upon us in another two weeks.