With the Filipino clubs' good run in the ongoing AFC Cup tournament which saw both Global Cebu FC and Ceres-Negros to be featured in the upcoming semi-finals of the continental competition's Asean zonal group, it is justify to say the footballing standard in the archipelago is on the rise.
|Ceres (black) ripped apart Tampines twice this year|
Speaking to The Straits Times after the draw of the preliminary round of this season's tournament, the 49-year-old said:"We have played against Ceres Negros before and they are not a pushover."
NOT LONGER "WHIPPING BOYS" ...
On top of the launch of the Philippines Football League (PFL), the influx of large number of European-based players who are of mixed parentage with Filipino heritage turning out for the Azkals (the nickname of country's national football team) in recent years could be some of the factors that see the country top the recent FIFA ranking in South East Asia.
|Singapore Cup - good platform for those utilised it well (credit: Football Association of Singapore)|
Beside the Filipino clubs, another invited side in the past - Hong Kong's newly-crowned league champions Kitchee SC, who played in 2010 edition, are making remarkable progress too.
Since the day they were thrashed 4-0 by SAFFC in 2008's AFC Cup competition, the Hong Kong Barça transformed themselves to a nemesis of S.League sides in Asia when they ripped apart both Tampines Rovers and Warriors FC years later in the same competition which they have been a force to be reckoned with of late. Following their crowning glory days ago, Kitchee will be playing in the prestigious Asian Champions League (ACL) next year.
|Kitchee - "whipping boys" turned "conquerors" (file snap)|
"The competition faced against other foreign teams or locally-based clubs (in Singapore Cup) provided a novel competitive factor they (invited sides) lack back at home. Success gives them believe they can do more to expand their horizons in Asia.
"The challenge right now for our local clubs is to use the invitation of foreign teams to up our game, given our decline in Asia in recent years. We weren't as competitive enough as we used to, so having these teams gives them an incentive to perform - and a breath of fresh air compared to facing the same league sides a minimum of three times." added Koh who covers regional football in his scope of work.
As pointed out by Koh in his assessment, the decline of Singapore football in recent years allowed minnows like Laos and Cambodia to show what their footballers are capable of in their encounters against the Lions during the past few years.
It would hardly be a surprise if the Cambodian sides are the next group to show their gratitude to the Singapore Cup as a platform to elevate the quality of their game in this process. After all, club sides from this kingdom have been making their presence since 2007 with Phnom Penh Crown having the best record by made it to the quarter-finals in 2009.
|Singapore vs Cambodia is common fixture these days (file snap)|
Whilst Koh acknowledged those achievements as signs of "gradual improvement" for Cambodian football, he opined the gap between the two is still wide apart.
Said Koh:"There is still a tremendous gap between the Cambodian league sides and us, but it is narrowing.
"Should Cambodian teams be more competitive, i.e.: narrowing the margins of defeats, or even making consecutive (Singapore) Cup quarter-finals appearances in the seasons to come, it will be a major sign of progress they have made - and this is where our clubs should be concerned, if they aren't concerned now."
Indeed, justification has been seeked to determine the need of having our local sides constantly spar against foreign teams in both S.League and the Singapore Cup, hopefully at this juncture you already have the answer on why there is such a necessity.