High expectations and big dreams but the fiesta is far from over for defending champions Chonburi FC, title pretenders PVF Vietnam, Harimau Muda Under-16 and Frenz United Malaysia in the Asia Champions Trophy Under-16 2014.
The ‘Young Tigers’ and Frenz United Malaysia, dubbed the ‘Black Dragons’, aim to ruin the escalating dreams and hopes of Chonburi FC and PVF Vietnam when the semi-finals of Asia’s richest youth tournament which offers a total prize money of US$100,000 (RM330,000) gets underway this weekend.
Harimau Muda Under-16 coach S. Balachandran has called on his young tigers to add more bite into their game against the Thais in the first-leg semi-finals at Frenz Stadium in Janda Baik, Pahang this Saturday. The second-leg will be played on August 18 at the Chonburi FC Stadium. For the record, the Thais remained the only team in ACT 2014 to record seven straight wins and two draws in Group A of the preliminary round.
Prolific goal-poacher Kogileswaran Raj Mohana Raj, the young tigers leading scorer with 11 goals, will be the striker Balachandran hopes to unleash and prise open Chonburi’s highly shaky and porous defence when under intense pressure.
The Thais have scored a total of 36 goals but it is their unpredictable defence line that riles head coach Withaya Laohakul having witnessed how easily his players succumbed to pressure by allowing 12 goals past them.
“We have never played Chonburi before but we will take the field with the same kind of tenacity and discipline which saw us beat PVF Vietnam by three goals in our last group match,” said Balachandran who is bracing for a tough encounter against Chonburi.
“What is important is that we maintain our momentum going into the semi-finals with the underdogs tag. That will lift the pressure off us and I am sure the boys are eager to win this first round battle at home with the support of our fans in Janda Baik,” he added.
Organised by Frenz United Football Club in collaboration with the Football Association of Malaysia and Asian Football Confederation, the Asia Champions Trophy Under-16 2014 is an ‘upgraded’ version of the 2013 ASEAN Under-15 Champions Trophy which Chonburi FC claimed with a 4-1 aggregate victory over Frenz United Malaysia A in last year’s final.
However, the new version of the ACT 2014 is spread over a wider platform with the participation of Guangdong FA (China) and India’s National Under-16 (AIFF), bringing the total number of teams competing to 12. Timor Leste National Under-16, LAO Toyota (Laos), Myanmar Academy FC, Frenz United Indonesia and Singapore’s Home United FC add up to the numbers.
The competition format is mirrored that of the Champions league, beginning with a first round group stage which started on May 17 followed by the knockout stage. Top two teams in each group advance to the August 9-10 first-leg semi-finals followed by second-leg semi-finals on August 17-18. The final, also played on a home-and-away basis, is scheduled for August 23 and August 30.
The Champions will receive US$50,000 (RM165,000), runners-up US$25,000 (RM80,000), third and fourth placed teams US$12,500 (RM40,000) and US$7, 500 (RM24,000) respectively. Additional to that are the individual awards of Most Valuable Player who will receive US$3,000 (RM9,600) and the Top Scorer gains to receive US$2,000 (RM6,400).
Frenz United Football Club held a ‘Hari Raya Aidilfitri Open House’ for members of the media today which was also attended by Frenz United FC president, Dato’ Noor Ihsan Hamid, senior Frenz United FC Officials, sponsors and respective managers and captains of teams who have qualified for the semi-finals of the ACT 2014.
“The Asia Champions Trophy Under-16 2014 is one of the major tournaments organised by Frenz United FC primarily to promote the continued development of young footballers in this region,” said Dato’ Noor Ihsan. “The tournament was conceived to showcase the true emerging regional talents to the world at large and more importantly raise the overall level of regional professionalism to unprecedented high.”
“Frenz United FC investment in the future of football is propelling itself as one of the leading football capitals of the region. With this status, the Asia Champions Trophy Under-16 2014 will be a key international event in the world of youth football,” he said, adding that Frenz United FC vision of developing players at the junior level has been fruitful.
“The Asia Champions Trophy will also act as a platform with a right exposure playing against good teams. We hope with this effort they will go on to represent their respective countries beginning with the AFC Under-16 Championships in September,” said Dato’ Noor Ihsan.
With a series of good performances in the preliminary round, Frenz United Malaysia team manager Ahmad Fairu z Mohd Yunus is however fully aware of PVF Vietnam’s strength in their own backyard and hopes that his boys withstand the pressure-cooker atmosphere this Sunday at Thong Nhat Stadium.
“We are confident that our team will be able to take the game to PVF Vietnam and will ensure a tough encounter for our Vietnamese opponents. The boys are raring to go and hope to capitalise on the weakness within PVF,” said Fairuz.
Meanwhile, PVF Vietnam representative, Luong Thi Phuong Dung, has warned the players against any form of complacency against Frenz United Malaysia as the Malaysians are in top form.
“Frenz United Malaysia has quite a number of skilful players and it will be a grave mistake on our part to underestimate them,” said Luong. “The fact that Frenz United Malaysia is in the semi-finals shows they are a team to be respected."
She added that as favourites, PVF Vietnam will bounce back from that 3-0 defeat against Harimau Muda Under-16 on July 19 and play like champions in the semi-finals.
“The morale of the team is high. We have put that 3-0 defeat behind us and are now focussed on our semi-finals match against Frenz United Malaysia,” she said, adding that with home ground advantage at Thong Nhat stadium they hope to pull off a positive result going into the return-leg match.
The Vietnamese, who have been hogging the limelight since May 17 this year, missed out of the 2013 semi-finals by a mere point - finishing third behind Chonburi FC and Frenz United Malaysia ‘A’ at the end of the preliminary round. However, they seemed to have learned from that bitter experience and returned this year with outstanding performance to lead Group A with 25 points following eight wins and a draw.
Fixtures – August 9: 1st Leg Semi-finals: Harimau Muda U-16 v Chonburi FC (Frenz Stadium, Janda Baik, 8.45pm); August 10: PVF Vietnam vs Frenz United Malaysia (Thong Nat stadium, Ho Chi Minh City, 5.00pm).
August 17– 2nd Leg semi-finals: Frenz United Malaysia vs PVF Vietnam (Frenz Stadium, Janda Baik, 8.45pm); August 18: Chonburi FC v Harimau Muda U-16 (Chonburi Stadium, 5.00pm).
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