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Cerezo Coast Past Youthful Guangzhou as Kitchee Stun Port

Group J of the 2021 AFC Champions League kicked-off their first games on Thursday at the Chang Arena in Buriram, with J.League 1’s very own Cerezo Osaka taking on a very youthful Guangzhou FC of the Chinese Super League, while Hong Kong champions Kitchee SC face-off against Port FC of the Thai League 1.

Guangzhou FC (China) 0-2 Cerezo Osaka (Japan)

It was a very straightforward win for Levir Culpi’s Cerezo against a Guangzhou side fielding their kids at the Chang Arena, with reserve team assistant coach Liu Zhiyu overseeing the team in lieu of head coach Fabio Cannavaro who remained in China with the main team.

However to these youngsters’ credit, they managed to prevent themselves from losing by an even bigger margin, as a goal in each half was all that Cerezo can do to see off the Southern China Tigers despite the men in pink’s dominance throughout the 90 minutes.

Riki Harakawa swung in a corner after 15 minutes which was greeted by a powerful header from Hiroaki Okuno, giving Cerezo the 1-0 lead.

Cerezo’s Australian striker Adam Taggart showed some flashes of brilliance throughout the match that convinced the men in pink to snap him up from Suwon Samsung Bluewings, with Taggart eliciting a save from Guangzhou goalkeeper Zhang Jianshi in the 19h minute before seeing his header going wide in the 28th minute.

Both Hiroshi Kiyotake and Harakawa also tested Zhang with their efforts, while Cerezo goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon was virtually unchallenged in the first half with the exception of a Fan Hengbo long-ranged effort that thankfully went wide.

Cerezo continued to bombard the young Guangzhou defense in the second half, with Taggart and Tatsuhiro Sakamoto keeping Zhang up on his toes, before defender Tiago Pagnussat doubled Cerezo’s advantage in the 69th minute.

Once again it was a corner from Harakawa that started proceedings, with the midfielder swinging the ball into the Guangzhou penalty area that sliced the opposition defense open, leaving Tiago all the time and space he needed to head the ball into Zhang’s goal.

In the end despite their best efforts Guangzhou were unable to trouble Cerezo one bit and the J1 side will be delighted that their dominance was rewarded with all three points.

Kitchee SC (Hong Kong) 2-0 Port FC (Thailand)

The same cannot be said for Port, who managed to assume control of their match against Kitchee only for their wastefulness to cost them dearly as they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in the late kick-off.

Making their group stage debut at a wet and empty Chang Arena, Port took on a Kitchee side who had won only one of their six previous ACL group stage games and right from the start the Lions of Khlong Toei went on the offensive.

New signing John Baggio struck the crossbar in the 2nd minute after the Malagasy had taken advantage of a weak clearance from Kitchee goalkeeper Paulo Cesar, before it was rattled again in the 8th minute thanks to a free-kick from Bordin Phala.

Go Seul-ki then saw his effort hitting row zed in the 32nd minute with a powerful shot that blazed above Cesar’s goal, before Kitchee punished Port for their profligacy in the 37th minute.

A free-kick for Kitchee saw Cleiton curling his effort into the Port penalty area, with the ball being headed towards Worawut Srisupha’s goal by Helio. The ball struck the crossbar however Roberto was there to smash home the rebound with an instinctive volley, providing Kitchee with the one goal-advantage.

Port pushed forward for an equalizer in the second half, with Philip Roller’s effort being parried away by Cesar in the 54th minute. Former Ratchaburi Mitr Phol captain Roller then managed to seize onto the rebound and fired off another shot, only for Raul Baena to step into the fray in the last minute with a goal-line clearance.

Shortly afterwards in the 55th minute Nurul Sriyankem stirred more trouble in the Kitchee defense, this time sending in a corner that was met by a header from Elias Dolah. Unfortunately for the Lions, Dolah’s header went agonizingly off-target.

Sarawut Treephan’s men huffed and puffed as they tried their best to chase the game. Jaturapat Sattham attempted to rifle in a shot from distance only for the ball to be smothered by Cesar, before Dolah missed his header once again, this time from Baggio’s indirect free-kick.

Ultimately, in the 79th minute Kitchee once again punished Port for their wastefulness in front of goal, with an excellent teamwork between Dejan Damjanovic and Cleiton ends with the former driving a low shot past Srisupha to make it 2-0 for the Hong Kongers. The goal was a momentous occasion for Damjanovic as it brought him level with Lee Dong-gook as the ACL’s all-time top scorer.

In the end, despite their dominance in possession, shots, passes, and pass accuracy, Port’s inability to make their chances count cost them the game as Kitchee managed to reap all three points off them.

Surely embittered by this defeat, Port will seek to make amends as they take on Guangzhou in Sunday, while Kitchee will face-off against Cerezo on the same day.