Thailand's BG Pathum United proving the real deal in sophomore AFC Champions League season

BG Pathum United maintained their unbeaten start in AFC Champions League 2022 with a 5-0 rout of United City on Thursday, with star man Diogo coming off the bench to score in a late surge that reaped four goals in the final 15 minutes. Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images

In their maiden appearance in the AFC Champions League last year, BG Pathum United performed admirably to make it out of the group stage before falling in the Round of 16.

12 months on, the Thai outfit are firmly on course to repeat the feat at the very least in only their second foray in Asia's premier club competition.

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Thursday's emphatic 5-0 win over United City of Philippines saw them maintain their unbeaten start to the campaign as consolidate their position at the top of Group G at the halfway mark of the group stage.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of BG Pathum's displays so far has been just how comfortable they now look among the continent's elite.

Granted, the luck of the draw was kind to them and even before the campaign kicked off, they would have fancied their chances of progressing to the knockout round from a group also consisting of Melbourne City and Jeonnam Dragons.

The only blemish on their record so far was an opening-day 1-1 draw with Melbourne City, which was hardly a disappointing result given the Australians are expected to be their main challengers for top spot.

But in subsequent victories over Jeonnam and United City, the Rabbits have shown a level of confidence that bodes well for their prospects.

Given Southeast Asian teams' traditional status as underdogs compared their counterparts from Japan or South Korea, it is not uncommon to see clubs field their strongest XI in a bid to grind out results.

BG Pathum coach Makoto Teguramori has however been confident enough to regularly rotate their players, which also further highlights the impressive depth at his disposal that could just see his team pose a challenge in 2022.

On Thursday, Teguramori was confident to leave the likes of Diogo, Sarach Yooyen, Ikhsan Fandi and Victor Cardozo out of his starting lineup while Andres Tunez was omitted completely, which meant they started with just one foreigner despite being allowed four in the lineup.

22-year-old Kanokpon Puspakom, coming into the side for his first start of the campaign, made an instant impact with the opening goal, while Pathompol Charoenrattanapirom -- by no means the biggest name in Thai football -- is slowly but surely emerging as an influential player not just for club but country, as he showed last year in Thailand's AFF Suzuki Cup triumph.

Three days earlier, it had been the turn of Teerasil Dangda -- the second all-time top scorer of the Thai national team -- to take his place on the bench in what turned out to be a 2-0 triumph over Jeonnam.

Even in that opening-day draw with Melbourne City, Teguramori had been confident enough to start without Diogo and Cardozo.

The constant rotation not only allows the BG Pathum players to remain fresh for the entire campaign, but it also affords everyone valuable exposure to ensure they are as ready as they can be when they are called upon.

It is an approach that can be seen from the likes of Kawasaki Frontale, Urawa Red Diamonds and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors -- who are all among the main contenders in the competition's East Zone.

Based on what they have shown in their opening three games, there is an argument to be made that BG Pathum should be included in that group of legitimate challengers.