Geylang International will cross swords with Eastern rivals Tampines Rovers in the first group match of the Singapore Cup this Friday (October 28).
Having completed the league campaign with a respectable fourth-place finish a week ago, the Eagles are training their focus on the domestic cup competition, which returns after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
While the Tampines-based side are granted provisional qualification to the AFC Cup for being the third-best local club in the league (assuming either of the top-three win the Singapore Cup), they are taking no chance and hope to qualify for the continental tournament as cup winners.
Their first assignment would be to qualify for the semi-finals by at least finishing in the top-two positions of an evenly balanced Group B - also comprising of Hougang United and Tanjong Pagar United.
Should Geylang International be able to reach the last four as group winners or first runners-up, either scenario would throw up a high possibility of them squaring off against a formidable opponent from Group A - heavily tipped to be newly crowned league champions Albirex Niigata or tournament favourites Lion City Sailors - in that knockout round.
Despite their underdog status in reaching the final and lifting the trophy, the 2009 cup winners hope to do one better than their performance in the 2019 edition, when they won the third-place playoff against DPMM after falling to Tampines Rovers in the semis.
The Eagles who have clocked 32 points from their last 17 league games and lost only twice in that sequence, are banking on carrying that strong form into the Singapore Cup and fancying their chances of scoring an upset victory over their nemesis, the Stags, for the first time in their sixth attempt.
Team news: Zaiful Nizam who has been out of action since picking up an ankle injury in a league match against Tanjong Pagar United in early October, returned to training last week and may feature in the Eastern derby.
Abdil Qaiyyim and Fadli Kamis are ruled out of the forthcoming fixture as they continue their recuperation from their groin and anterior cruciate ligament injuries respectively.
Player to watch: Rio Sakuma - The Japanese defender will be tasked to neutralise the attacking threats posed by his opposite number, Boris Kopitovic, who recently claimed his Golden Boot award after scoring 35 goals in the league this season. There is no doubt the latter will be looking to top the goal scorer charts in the cup competition. Sakuma can take heart from the previous derby when his superb defensive work prevented the Montenegrin goal machine from finding the net.