The Benfica de Macau football team will be participating in three different competitions this year. Aside from the regular Macau’s Elite League Championship and the Macau Football Association (MFA) Cup, Benfica will be involved in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, an annual international association football competition between Asian domestic clubs in Asia.
At a press conference held yesterday by the club at OneTwo sports apparel shop in central Macau, the team administrator, Duarte Alves, noted that the participation of the Macau team in the Asian competition is a “unique opportunity.” Alves noted that 2018 will be the only year where a direct entry to the group stage will be granted to a local team, as “for 2019, we already have the information that due to Macau’s ranking, the local team that wins the championship [Elite League] will have to play a preliminary playoff stage in order to access the [main] competition.”
Alves also highlighted, “this will be the first time [and the last] that a Macau team will participate with direct entry to a competition of this level.” This participation is the main novelty for the season, representing an important challenge for the team. As Alves said, “it represents participation in a competition at a higher level than the one that we are used to here in Macau – a lot more competitive. We say this, but obviously we are going to give our best to obtain the best possible result.”
However, he added that the competition will be strong and very experienced, including many players that are used to representing their national teams in World Championships.
“We are well aware of what we can expect [to find] and we will give it our best,” he concluded.
Club goals for the other two competitions have been long established. Alves mentioned, “to be five-time champions of the Macau league and to renew the title of MFA Cup are always the [team’s] objectives.”
To achieve these goals, the team has strengthened its lineup with the hiring of a few new players, while retaining the core squad. Leading the team is also a new coach, Bernardo Tavares from Portugal, who already has experience in AFC competitions, most notably in 2015, when he led the Al-Nahda Club from Oman in the competition.
Local champions may play twice in North Korea
On the sidelines of the event, the Times questioned Alves on the opponents.
The 4.25 Sports Club, which Benfica will have to play, is from North Korea and this might mean that the match is played in North Korean territory.
He responded, “everything points in that direction. Only if there is no way to travel to the country, whether the country is at war or it does not authorize our entry, or even if the Macau SAR does not authorize our travel to the country (as happened before in the game between Malaysia and DPR Korea), the match needs to be played on a neutral field [otherwise it is played in two legs; one in each country or region].”
The Benfica team manager also said, “when I was in Malaysia for the workshop and draw, I asked that question and I was told that it should be played [normally].”
But the match with 4.25 Sports Club might not be the only one to be played in North Korea. The East Asian Group in which Benfica Macau has been placed also features Hang Yuen from Taiwan, and possibly another North Korean team, Hwaebul.
Hwaebul, second in the North Korean Championship, still have a playoff game with Mongolia champions Erchim in order to determine the last of the group of four. The playoff match will take place next month.