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Preview – 2021 AFC Champions League: Group G 

Bangkok: The 2021 AFC Champions League (East) gets underway on Tuesday when the four teams in Group G kick off their campaigns at Thailand's Rajamangala Stadium. 

Ratchaburi Mitr Phol from the host country will make their continental debut and they will be joined by Southeast Asian rivals Johor Darul Ta'zim of Malaysia, 2009 winners Pohang Steelers of Korea Republic and Japan's Nagoya Grampus, who return for the first time since 2012.

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The Venue

Opened in 1998 ahead of the 13th Asian Games, Rajamangala Stadium is home to the Thailand national team and is the Southeast Asian country’s largest sporting venue. The atmospheric arena boasts a capacity of 49,722 and was among the stadiums used for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup.

One of the biggest matches ever staged at the venue was the second leg of the inaugural AFC Champions League final between Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana and Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates in October 2003, which the hosts won 1-0 on the night but lost 2-1 on aggregate.

More recently, Rajamangala Stadium hosted the final of the 2020 AFC U23 Championship, which saw Korea Republic defeating Saudi Arabia 1-0 to emerge champions.

Key Men

Steeven Langil – Ratchaburi Mitr Phol

Having gained plenty of experience in France, Poland and the Netherlands, Martinique international Steeven Langil headed east in 2018 to join Ratchaburi and his form was key in helping the Thai League 1 side qualify for an Asian club competition for the first time.

Langil is an important creator and scorer of goals, weighing in – by some distance – with more assists than any of his teammates last season and also scoring seven times. While this will be his first experience of the AFC Champions League, he has played – and scored – for French side Auxerre in the UEFA Champions League.

Safawi Rasid – Johor Darul Ta'zim

Back at Johor Darul Ta'zim after a short stint in Portugal, Safawi Rasid has already displayed his considerable talent on the AFC Champions League stage, with his stunning goal against Shandong Luneng in his side's debut campaign in 2019 among the standout moments of the competition.

A tricky forward with an eye for a pass, the ability to take on defenders and score from distance, Safawi goes into the tournament on the back of scoring the winner for Malaysia in their Asian Qualifiers victory over ASEAN rivals Thailand.

Sin Jin-ho – Pohang Steelers

Having captained East Coast rivals Ulsan Hyundai to AFC Champions League glory last year, Sin Jin-ho returned to where he began his career in early 2021, and his leadership skills will likely be key for a side who have not competed on the continent since 2016.

An engine in the midfield who shields the backline well and wins the majority of his defensive duels, Sin is also key to moving things forward from the centre and weighs in with his fair share of goals and assists.

Mitch Langerak – Nagoya Grampus

A commanding presence and excellent shot-stopper who recently retired from international duty with Australia, Mitch Langerak's form in 2020 was key in his team qualifying for the competition. The last line of defence for a side that scored the fewest goals in the J League 1's top 10, the 32-year-old played all 34 games as Nagoya ended the campaign with the best defensive record.

The trend has continued in 2021, with the former Borussia Dortmund 'keeper again an ever-present for an underscoring side that boasts the meanest defence and went nine games without conceding. The stats alone show there is little doubt of Langerak's importance to his side ahead of his first AFC Champions League appearance in more than a decade.

Encounters to Watch

As the only debutant in the group all eyes will be on Ratchaburi when they take to the field against Pohang in their opening game on June 22 as a team which has been in existence for less than 20 years faces one which has won three continental titles – two of which came before the Thai side was even founded.

But there will also be plenty of intrigue surrounding Pohang, the 2009 winners who were previously a regular feature in the AFC Champions League but haven't appeared since 2016. Five times K League 1 champions, they will be looking to reestablish themselves as a force in Asian club football.

Returning to the AFC Champions League for the first time since 2012, Nagoya will be aiming to maintain their perfect record of having advanced to the knockout rounds on each of their three appearances.

While they have never previously faced Pohang, the 2009 edition marks both of their best performances in the competition as Nagoya reached the semi-finals before elimination to Al Ittihad, who went on to lose the final to Pohang. Japan versus Korea is always a big occasion, so expect more of the same when the sides clash on June 25.

The AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Cup regularly showcases the intense rivalries between Southeast Asian countries but not since 2008 have club sides from the competing nations in the regional competition faced off in the AFC Champions League. That all changes on June 25 when JDT take on Ratchaburi in what will be the first-ever match between Malaysia and Thailand in the competition.

In recent times it is the Malaysians who have got the better of the Thais at international level (completing the double in the Asian Qualifiers and running out victorious in the 2018 AFF Cup semi-finals), and JDT will be looking to continue that trend at Rajamangala Stadium.

Poll ends at 18:00 (UTC+8) on June 22.

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