From promotion to champions, can BG Pathum United continue AFC Champions League fairy tale?

In their first season back in the top flight, BG Pathum United went on to be crowned Thai League 1 champions of the 2020-21 season as they finished with a 14-point buffer over their closest challengers. BG Pathum United FC

As far as fairy tales go, few could have written it better than BG Pathum United given they were crowned champions in their first season after earning promotion back to the Thai League 1.

It was a remarkable feat but there are a couple of footnotes that perhaps temper the achievement slightly.

To begin with, it was a surprise that they were even relegated in the first place back in 2018, given their status as one of Thai football's stronger clubs from the time they were still known as Bangkok Glass.

Understandably, when the Rabbits regained their top-flight status, no expense was spared to ensure they remained there at the very least; they made a raft of big-name signings from rivals that were -- at the time -- the frontrunners of the Thai football scene, including Thailand international Sarach Yooyen and ex-Celta Vigo man Andres Tunez from Muangthong United and Buriram United respectively.

This ambition is exactly what stands BG Pathum in good stead as they embark on their maiden AFC Champions League campaign, beginning with Saturday's match against fellow debutants Kaya FC-Iloilo of the Philippines, who did well to advance to the group stage after beating an undermanned Shanghai Port in the qualifying playoffs.

The Thai champions head into the tie as favourites, based on the respective talent at hand, but there is also the pressure of flying the flag for Thailand given the nation's three other representatives -- Ratchaburi Mitr Phol, Port FC and Chiangrai United -- have combined for four losses so far in the campaign.

Even if BGPU pass their first test, it will only get tougher with reigning champions Ulsan Hyundai next in line.

Do they have what it takes to reach the knockout round of Asia's premier club competition?

The simple answer is yes.

On paper, they are the second-best team in Group F and have the benefit of home advantage as the host team. An already-impressive squad has only been enhanced with the addition of strikers Teerasil Dangda and Diogo, two proven performers at this level.

Qualifying as group winners might be out of the question with Ulsan in the picture, but they will be expected to beat both Kaya and Vietnam's Viettel FC, and 12 points from a possible 18 is almost certain to be enough to advance as one of the East Zone's three best runners-up.

Yet, it is never that simple.

As much as it is possible that BG Pathum could enhance their prospects by getting a point off Ulsan, they are as likely to drop points against Kaya and Viettel -- neither of whom will lack in endeavour with, arguably, less pressure on their shoulders.

The Rabbits thrived playing the role of the hunters last season, as they went from nowhere to sweep aside the big guns and claim the domestic league crown.

How they cope as one of the hunted in the ACL will determine if they are to continue their fairy tale on the continental stage.