The draw for the 2018 AFC Cup was concluded in Kuala Lumpur at the AFC headquarters, and Benfica Macau were drawn into the East Asian Group, which will be composed of four teams: Hang Yuen from Chinese Taipei (aka Taiwan), 4.25 (“April 25th”) from North Korea, Benfica from Macau and the winner of the playoff between the Mongolian champions Erchim and another North Korean representative, Hwaebul.
Given the previous record of the Mongolian champions, the most probable outcome is that the fourth team will be Hwaebul.
Analyzing the group, the underdogs will be Hang Yuen, which were third in the inaugural season of the Taiwan Football Premier League, since powerhouses Taipower and Tatung have not applied for participating in AFC competitions this year. The key matches for Benfica Macau will be the ones against the teams from North Korea. 4.25 are certainly the big favourites, reaching the inter-zonal playoff in 2017. The club is a historical team in DPR Korea and also wins most of the time the domestic competitions.
Benfica will start into their first campaign with a home game against Hang Yuen on March 7th, and will round up the group stage on May 16th against the playoff winner. The entire schedule has been announced as follows:
- Benfica Macau vs Hang Yuen FC (7th March)
- Playoff winner vs Benfica Macau (14th March)
- 4.25 SC vs Benfica Macau (11th April)
- Benfica Macau vs 4.25 SC (25th April)
- Hang Yuen FC vs Benfica Macau (2nd May)
- Benfica Macau vs Playoff winner (16th May)
It is the first time that Benfica Macau will enter the AFC Cup group stage, so it will be interesting to see how the squad will manage midweek matches during the Macau Elite League season. Nonetheless, this will be a great opportunity for the Macau champions, since with the new AFC rankings, the Macanese representatives will only enter the competition in the 1st preliminary round, and if they would advance to the playoffs, they would then face either a club from Hong Kong or North Korea.
Meanwhile, Benfica will have to hire one or two center-backs in the next months, since Macau international Filipe Duarte suffered a long-term injury and might miss most of the coming season, which would include the entire AFC Cup group stage. It is also not confirmed yet if Portuguese Henrique Nunes will remain as headcoach. The squad already started their preparation for the Macau Elite League, which will start on January 19th, so Benfica will need to solve the problem with the coach as soon as possible.
Benfica Macau is making history in Macau football. Let’s see how the four-times champions of Macau will perform in the group stage of a continental competition.