Home United striker Shahril Ishak is desperate for AFC Cup glory as he hopes the team can give Singapore an early 53rd birthday present.
In what will be a repeat of last season’s AFC Cup Zonal Final, the Protectors take on Ceres Negros over two legs – August 1 and 8 – and Aidil Sharin’s charges will be aiming to reverse last year’s result.
Home took a 2-1 advantage heading into the second leg in Bacolod but were undone by a 2-0 result to lose out on the opportunity to face Istiklol in the Inter-zone playoffs.
This time out, the Protectors will play away before coming home on August 8 to close out the tie. Shahril reckons this will be a huge factor in the final outcome.
“I believe the players are looking forward to the game. We are in the Zonal Final and it’s a big thing because we are representing Singapore football,” Shahril told FOX Sports Asia.
“Playing away first is a huge advantage. If we do well away, the return game will be up to us. Also, it is on 8 August and the next day is our National Day celebrations so the players want to give Singapore a present.”
Shahril’s plans for AFC Cup glory could rest firmly on strike partner Song Ui-young’s availability as the South Korean ace is struggling to return from injury.
Home have added former A-League star Isaka Cernak to the mix but Shahril knows how important Song will be for the team if they are to go far.
He said: “I think one of the good things is we (Song and I) communicate well on the pitch and know what we want to do in the attacking side. Of course we do it every day in training to make it hard for the opponent.
“We don’t underestimate Ceres because we know how good they are. What we are hoping for is Song to be back and the rest of it is following Coach Aidil’s plans, get a positive away result and come back home to finish the job.”
The Protectors’ job was made even tougher in the last fortnight as Ceres strengthened their roster with seasoned stars like Paul Mulders, Roland Muller, Blake Powell and Curt Dizon for the Zonal Final.