Lion City Sailors mean business in second voyage into Asian Champions League

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SINGAPORE – When the Lion City Sailors chose to include more foreign players in their squad beyond the Singapore Premier League (SPL) quota this season, it became clear that they were serious about their second Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign, which kicks off on Wednesday night.

The SPL’s only privatised club retained Spanish defender Manuel Lopez in June despite deregistering him from the league.

In the following month, they added Portuguese midfielder Rui Pires, Australian centre-back Bailey Wright and Curacaoan forward Richairo Zivkovic to their ranks, with the latter two bolstering their SPL side, which already comprises Maxime Lestienne and Diego Lopes.

They also have Japanese striker Kodai Tanaka and Brazilian defender Pedro Henrique, who are returning from long-term injuries, on their payroll, which means they have twice the number of foreigners allowed to play in the SPL under the four-player quota.

But their wealth of foreign talent will be crucial in the ACL, which has a quota of 5+1 for imports (five players of any nationality and one from an Asian Football Confederation member association). Out of their eight imports, the Sailors can name any six in their match-day squad.

The Sailors are in East Zone’s Group F alongside Korean League 1 runners-up Jeonbuk Motors, Hong Kong Premier League champions Kitchee and Thai League 1 runners-up Bangkok United, whom they host at Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.

The 10 group winners, along with the three best runners-up from each zone, will progress to the round of 16. Saudi Pro League clubs like Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr, Karim Benzema’s Al-Ittihad and Neymar’s Al-Hilal are in the West Zone.

Sailors coach Aleksandar Rankovic said they are “taking the ACL very seriously”, adding: “Representing Singapore football at the Asian level comes with an important responsibility. 

“We have brought players on board, committed wholeheartedly to our preparation, and are determined to put up performances that our fans, and Singapore, can be proud of.”

But the 45-year-old Serb admi...

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