Tampines Rovers drawn to meet Malaysian champions JDT in AFC Cup
Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) could face Singapore's Tampines Rovers in the 2018 AFC Cup after they were provisionally drawn together in Group H.
Both teams are hoping for progress through the qualifiers for the AFC Champions League (ACL), but realistically there is a strong chance that they will meet in a group that also features opponents from Indonesia and Vietnam.
In order to reach the ACL group stage, 2015 AFC Cup winners JDT have to overcome Thailand's Muang Thong United before an away playoff away to Japanese opponents.
Tampines, who qualified as S.League runners up, face an even more arduous route. If they can beat Bali United in Indonesia, they would then have to win at Thai FA Cup winners Chiang Rai United and finally overcome star-studded Shanghai SIPG in China.
It is a highly implausible scenario for the S.League runners-up in particular. We will see a Causeway Derby at club level in 2018, but we will have to wait until January before confirming the identity of the protagonists.
Should one or both of JDT and Tampines achieve the unlikely feat of reaching the ACL group stage, MSL side Selangor FA and and the S.League's Geylang United will replace them.
Group H also features Indonesia's Persija Jakarta, a club that Tampines' veteran defender Fahrudin Mustafić once spent a year with. Vietnam's Song Lam Nghe An FC are the final team in the group.
JDT will fancy their chances of emerging from the group given their recent success at this level, but Tampines failed to make it out of their group last year and have their work cut out to progress next year.
This year's ASEAN zone finalists Home United may have a rematch with their conquerors as 2017 Inter-zone semifinalists Ceres Negros could be the Philippines representative in Group F depending on the outcome of the Philippines Football League season.
Alternatively, there is also a possible rematch with the team that Home United defeated en route to that final, with another Philippines club Global-Cebu still in with a chance of qualifying.
The Protectors will also face either Shan United or Yadanarbon from Myanmar and the winner of the ASEAN playoff match between Boeung Ket Angkor from Cambodia and Lao Toyota from Laos.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK