Mark Hartmann was the hero for United City FC as he scored a brace in the Filipino side’s first ever AFC Champions League win on Thursday, with the Golden Boys recovering from 2-0 down to beat Beijing Guoan 3-2 at Tashkent’s Lokomotiv Stadium. Despite trailing significantly in the opening five minutes of the match, United City showed spirit and character as they emerged out on top in this absolute classic, etching history for themselves and the Philippines in the process. Elsewhere in Group I, a Leandro Damiao hat-trick ensured that Kawasaki Frontale would advance to the round of 16 as group winners after the reigning J.League 1 champions saw off Daegu FC 3-1.
Beijing Guoan (China) 2-3 United City FC (Philippines)
Determined to salvage some degree of pride following their elimination from the ACL, a youthful Beijing side took immediate control of the match from kick-off and scored after just 38 seconds, after they had wrestled the ball off the United City midfield and performed a superb run into the opposition defense that was capped off with a powerful shot from Jiang Wenhao that was deflected into Anthony Pinthus’ goal by the post.
Shortly afterwards in the 4th minute, Beijing made it 2-0 on the evening after some excellent link-up between Ma Yajun and Leng Jixuan, with the former providing the latter with a through pass that splits open the United City defense. Leng then performed a solo run within the United City penalty area, evading both an opposition defender and Pinthus, before unleashing a powerful shot that doubled Beijing’s advantage.
Halfway through the first half, United City got their first sniff at Guo Quanbo’s goal, as captain Stephan Schrock found Omid Nazari who was then played into space. Former Persib Bandung man Omid then fired off a shot, however it went wide off the target.
Omid’s brother Amin Nazari and the AFC Cup’s all-time top scorer Bienvenido Maranon then went close for United City, however the alert Beijing defense managed to thwart the duo as the Chinese side held onto their lead into half-time.
Beijing goalkeeper Guo was called into action in the 55th minute, as former Ubon UMT United and Ratchaburi Mitr Phol striker Hartmann lets one out from some distance that prompted the goalie to perform a quick, reactionary save.
However, five minutes later Hartmann managed to find a way into Guo’s net. Following a foul on Amin by Hu Jiaqi, United City were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area, which Hartmann beautifully executed to pull one back for the Filipino champions.
Ten minutes later United City managed to draw themselves level, this time through newly-naturalized Maranon. With the documents pertaining his Filipino citizenship having been signed by president Rodrigo Duterte only days before the match, Maranon took advantage of a skirmish in front of Guo’s goal after the Beijing defense had failed to clear away an Amin free-kick, with the Spanish-born player tapping in the equalizer from close-range.
Leng then struck the United City post in the 80th minute, providing the Golden Boys with the perfect opportunity to mount a counterattack. And mount a counterattack is exactly what United City did, with the maneuver being capped off with what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
The ever-influential Schrock sends a decisive through ball towards Hartmann, who then blasts a shot past Guo to complete the comeback for the reigning Philippines Football League champions.
Holding on for the win, the result represents not only the first three points that United City have won in the ACL group stage, but also the first time in history that a Filipino side have won an ACL game in the competition proper.
Daegu FC (South Korea) 1-3 Kawasaki Frontale (Japan)
It’s second vs first at the Bunyodkor Stadium, with flawless Group I leaders Kawasaki knowing all too well that a fifth win out of five would seal their place in this year’s round of 16. However, Daegu are be relishing a chance to upset the ominous leaders, with a win potentially opening their own chances of automatic qualification into the knockouts.
Toru Oniki’s Kawasaki side, who had been ruthless in their domestic and continental campaigns alike this year, showed Daegu what to expect in the 16th minute, with Damiao blazing a shot that narrowly clipped Choi Yeong-eun’s goal. The sky blue side of Kanagawa Prefecture kept their fellow sky blue rivals from South Korea on the ropes for a good chunk of the game, however Daegu weren’t completely without their own attempts as Tsubasa Nishi attempted a curling effort that went wide off target in the 26th minute.
Nine minutes later and predictably it was Kawasaki who drew first blood. Both Kaoru Mitoma and Damiao combined together to devastating effect as the latter seized upon the former’s rebounded shot with a header that crept its way into Yeong-eun’s goal.
With Kawasaki having thrown their gauntlet, Daegu accepted the challenge with a goal of their own in the 41st minute. Former Buriram United attacker Edgar lashed home a volley past Jung Sung-ryong after being given the ball by an An Yeong-woo cross to tie things up before half-time.
The second half saw Kawasaki pressing for a second goal to reclaim the lead and they did just that in the 64th minute. Yasuto Wakizaka seized upon an error made by substitute Lee Keun-ho, seizing the ball off the veteran before poking it towards Damiao. Without any hesitation Damiao pulled the trigger, beating Yeong-eun with a powerful shot to restore Kawasaki’s advantage.
Damiao then completed his hat-trick in the 87th minute to put the result beyond doubt, lashing home a thunderbolt beyond Yeoung-eun’s reaches.
The win ensured that Kawasaki would go through out of Group I as group winners, while Daegu are forced to wait for the other groups’ results to see whether they will become one of the three best runners-up who will qualify to the round of 16 alongside the group winners. The South Koreans play United City in their final game on July 11th, with Kawasaki taking on Beijing on the same day.