Duarte Alves: “It is the first time that a Macau club competes at this level”

Photo: Benfica Macau

Benfica de Macau team manager Duarte Alves gave an exclusive interview to to talk about Benfica’s preparation and objectives for the 2018 AFC Cup.

Duarte Alves just returned from the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, where he witnessed the draw for the coming AFC Cup edition, in which Benfica will play against 4.25 from DPR Korea, Hang Yuen from Taiwan, and the playoff winner between Erchim (Mongolia) and Hwaebul (DPR Korea). What will be the biggest challenge for Benfica de Macau in the AFC Cup, and what are the main goals for the club?

Duarte Alves: It is the first time that a club from Macau enters such a competition in the current format, and can participate straight in the group stage with home and away games. As we don’t own a stadium and the facilities are limited in Macau, the hosting of the matches is the biggest challenge we are going to face. There are other new experiences, which we will have to manage, such as the squad rotation during the busy times of the year, where we will be competing in both the domestic league and the AFC Cup. These are all new challenges and experiences which we are ready to tackle. Being the first participant from Macau, our objectives are to learn and do our best to go as far as possible.

The AFC Cup rules currently allow an additional foreign AFC player. Do Benfica de Macau plan to sign an Asian player?

We will take a look at our squad, analyse the current foreign players and see on which positions an Asian Player would benefit our team.

According to the latest AFC Ranking, Hong Kong lost one place and with it the direct slot for the AFC Champions League group stage, meaning that clubs from Hong Kong will soon return to the AFC Cup. That change means that Macau would eventually lose their direct access to the AFC Cup group stage in 2019, being forced to compete in another playoff. Does this put more pressure on Benfica this year?

At the moment we are focused on hosting the matches in Macau and on organizing our logistics. It’s the first time we compete at this level, so we put our whole attention on 2018. We’ll worry about 2019 when the time comes.

In theory the big favourites to win the group is the North Korean team 4.25 (“April 25th”). Benfica will face 4.25 in their 3rd and 4th match. Is this an advantage or disadvantage?

We certainly benefit from having some information on their performances when they play our competitors before us, but this advantage also works for them, so it probably cancels each other out.

Unfortunately, Benfica centre-back and captain Filipe Duarte had a serious injury. Are you concerned about the defence for the next season?

It’s an area, in which we lost a key member, not only as a player but also as a leader. We are working on strengthening this sector, but we also keep our fingers crossed and maybe our captain will be back in time to play in the 2018 AFC Cup.

Some less competitive leagues in Asia have adopted a model that adjusted the number of teams in the top-tier, increased the number of rounds or even added new cup competitions. Do you think that the Macau Elite League should follow this trend?

In Macau there is a great disparity between the top five and bottom five teams. If there are more important games, it would definitely bring more fans to the stadium, increase the media coverage, and strengthen the financial support to further develop our teams and football in general.

Do you see any possibility that in the future all Macau Elite League clubs need to obtain the AFC Club license as a mandatory precondition?

From my perspective, the AFC licensing process was introduced in order to help clubs and football leagues to develop, by improving standards and requirements to guarantee a sustainable and healthy growth of the sport we love. So yes, slowly introducing AFC Club licenses or an adapted version to meet the reality of each different country or region, would benefit the sport, domestically and internationally.

Last but not least, what do you think are the main challenges for Macau football in the future?

Bringing more fans to the stadium, high quality players, competitive matches, and a sustainable and competitive youth development program: All these are important factors for the growth of the sport. Unfortunately, Macau has limited land to build the necessary infrastructure, which reduces the rate of development. I believe we need to look into artificial grass pitches to maximize the “usability” of our spaces. Having this, and enforcing AFC Club licensing, or a variant thereof, would be the direction to go.

Thank you very much for your time. 

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