Kuwait SC coach Marin Ion feels that his team are ready to battle for silverware on two fronts as they begin the defence of the AFC Cup on Tuesday with a visit to Manama to face Bahrain First Division champions Al Riffa in their opening Group A match.

The Kuwaiti side became only the second club after Jordan’s Al Faisaly to win the competition twice when they trounced Iraqi side Arbil 4-0 in last year’s final. They also appear to be in good shape to add the Kuwait Premier League trophy to their cabinet after maintaining their seven-point lead in the table with a 3-0 victory over Al Arabi last Saturday.

With just six games left in the season, the AFC Cup could be seen as a potential distraction for Ion’s side as they seek to win their first domestic league title since 2008 but the Romanian prefers to see it as an opportunity for his side to get a shot in the arm.

“Our squad is complete and getting a win against Al Riffa will give us a big push as we are the defending champions of the AFC Cup,” said Ion (pictured).

“We are currently fighting to win our local league but our focus this week is on our match against Al Riffa which will be a very hard game for both teams.

“Our opponents are a strong team and they have nine international players who could make our task very hard tomorrow. But I hope that we can make a good start on Tuesday as we are looking to get full points from the group stage.”

Al Riffa have struggled in the defence of their league title and are currently fourth in the Bahrain league, six points behind leaders Busaiteen despite winning their last three games including a 2-1 victory over Al Shabab last Thursday.

Coach Dzemal Hadziabdic will be missing injured defender Abdulla Marzooq while forward Talal Yusuf is doubtful following a disagreement with the club. However, playing against the AFC Cup’s defending champions holds no fears for the Bosnian.

“We are full concentrated on the match against Kuwait SC,” said Hadziabdic. “They are a strong team and they are considered as one of the best teams in the region because they play with excellent discipline and good tactics and they have some good players.

“We have studied our opponents and we must be ready for them as they are the defending champions. But I’m fully confident that our players will show a good game and that they will get a good result tomorrow.”

Tuesday’s other Group A game will take at the Sports City Stadium in Beirut, where Lebanese Premier League champions Safa will entertain Tajik Cup winners Regar-TadAZ.

Safa suffered a setback in the league last Friday when they relinquished their position at the top of the table after a 2-2 draw with lowly Tripoli allowed Al Nejmeh to move a point ahead of them.

And coach Akram Salman does not expect things to get any easier for his side in what is arguably the toughest of the eight opening-round groups.

“There is no doubt that the match will be hard for us because it is the first match for our team in the competition and we will try our best to make a good start. We don’t have much information about our opponents which will make our task harder.

“The group that we are in is also very difficult as we will be playing against Kuwait SC, the defending champions, and also Al Riffa, who one of the stronger Bahraini clubs.

“However, we will try our best to have a good start and get the three points which will help us to secure one of the two tickets to the Knockout Stage.”

Regar-TadAZ managed to avoid the play-offs for a spot in the AFC Cup following the withdrawal of Bahraini side Muharraq but their coach Makhmadjon Khabibulloev is determined to see his side make the most of their opportunity on their AFC Cup debut.
“The match is important and the two teams have a good chance to win,” he said.

“We will go into the game looking for the three points although we don’t know very much about Safa,” he said.

“This is our first participation in this competition and our players may lack the experience of playing in continental competitions. However, we are keen to get a good result in the AFC Cup especially in our first match.”


Photo: AFP

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