Football: Singapore to host group-stage games for two AFC Cup Asean zone groups in June

The AFC Cup Asean zone competition will be the first time that Singapore is hosting an international event involving a team sport. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Singapore will host a football tournament for the first time since the Brazil Global Tour in October 2019, after winning the rights to hold the AFC Cup Group H and I matches from June 22 to 28.

Announcing the winning bids on Monday (March 1), the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said that the hosts for the AFC Cup group stage were selected after "an extensive bidding process".

Last month, an AFC spokesman revealed to The Straits Times that as many as 21 participating member associations had indicated their interest in hosting the 2021 AFC Champions League and AFC Cup group-stage matches.

Aside from Singapore, the other group stage games will be held in Bahrain, Jordan, Maldives, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Hong Kong. The venue for Group G in the Asean Zone will be decided at a later date.

Both the AFC Cup and Asian Champions League are traditionally played in a home-and-away format but will instead be played in centralised venues this year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Singapore Premier League (SPL) clubs Lion City Sailors and Geylang International will compete here in the Asean zone contest.

The Sailors are in Group H with Malaysia's Kedah, Vietnam's Saigon FC and the winner of a play-off between Cambodia's Visakha and Timor-Leste's Lalenok United.

Geylang will come up against the Philippines' Kaya FC-Iloilo, Myanmar's Shan United or Ayeyawady United, and Malaysia's Terengganu in Group I.

In a statement, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) general secretary Yazeen Buhari thanked the AFC for its confidence in Singapore.

He added that the FAS would discuss "the conditions we need to establish during this pandemic to keep the competition safe" with national agency Sport Singapore and other relevant government agencies.

Details were not provided on whether fans would be allowed into the stadiums.

"The FAS prioritises the health and safety of the players and officials and we will spare no effort to ensure our local community remains safe," said Yazeen.

Sailors general manager Badri Ghent welcomed the news, saying: "We can seamlessly transition to playing in the SPL after the AFC Cup Asean zone group stage is over without the need to be quarantined for travelling overseas. This will help the team maintain their momentum at a crucial point of the season."

Agreeing, Geylang coach Noor Ali said: "During this pandemic situation, we are glad that we are hosting and playing in Singapore because we don't know the situation in other countries."

The AFC Cup is the latest addition to Singapore's sports calendar, which includes the Singapore Tennis Open, which was held last month at the OCBC Arena with 250 fans permitted each day for the semi-finals and final.

There have also been several mixed martial arts live shows in Singapore, with most allowing up to 250 fans in the Indoor Stadium.

Other major sports events on the horizon this year include the Dota 2 Singapore Major Presented by PGL!, golf's HSBC Women's World Championship and Queen Sirikit Cup, badminton's Singapore Open, the Singapore Grand Prix and Singapore Rugby Sevens.

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