Group J of this year’s AFC Champions League came to a conclusion on Friday night at the Chang Arena, with Cerezo Osaka advancing out as group winners thanks to their 0-0 draw with runners-up Kitchee SC, who will now have to wait for results elsewhere to see whether they will accompany Cerezo into the round of 16 as one of the best three runners-up. Friday’s late match saw Port FC concluding their maiden ACL campaign in some style, methodically dismantling last-placed Guangzhou FC 5-1 to finish third.
Kitchee SC (Hong Kong) 0-0 Cerezo Osaka (Japan)
With pole position of Group J and an automatic ticket to the round of 16 at stake, Cerezo went all-out from the get-go at the Chang Arena, pressing their opponents from Hong Kong right away.
Both Yoshito Okubo and Koji Toriumi bombarded a firm Kitchee defense in the opening five minutes, before Hiroshi Kiyotake saw his header going wide off target. Okubo then once again threatened the Kitchee defense, forcing goalkeeper Paulo Cesar to take action as he managed to act in time to block the veteran striker’s attempt.
A Raul Baena foul in the 29th minute led to a free-kick for Cerezo in a promising position, with Riki Harakawa swinging the set-piece directly at Cesar’s goal. Unfortunately for Harakawa and Cerezo, the ball struck the left post instead of its intended target.
Cerezo kept on their pressure while Kitchee gladly soaked everything that the men in pink threw at them. Riku Matsuda went wide with his attempt while Cesar managed to deny Okubo from scoring by tipping his header over the crossbar, as Kitchee held on for a goalless finish going into the break.
The second half saw more of the same, Cerezo attacking relentlessly as Kitchee happily frustrated their Japanese opponents. However eventually fatigue began to sink in and after substitute Tiago Pagnussat missed two headers, the Hong Kong champions seized their opportunity.
Cleiton got a sniff at Kim Jin-hyeon goal in the 73rd minute, however the Brazilian was left in dismay after his shot went wide from its target. Matt Orr then went up next in the 86th minute and much to the disappointment of his teammates, the Hong Kong international went wide with his effort too.
Last but not least, the legendary Dejan Damjanovic attempted to perform a last-gasp attack on the Cerezo defense, however he strayed offside as the match came into a goalless conclusion – a result that sealed Cerezo’s qualification into the knockouts while Kitchee had to wait to see whether their impressive campaign so far is enough to book them a place in the round of 16.
Guangzhou FC (China) 1-5 Port FC (Thailand)
With nothing but pride left to play for in Friday’s late kick-off, Port started the match in a very high octane fashion and they deservedly got the lead after just five minutes. A nervous Guangzhou side performed a very fatal mistake at the back in the opening minutes of the game, as Liao Jintao gave the ball away to Sergio Suarez, who rifled in a side-footed effort past Zhang Jianzhi in the Guangzhou goal to open the scoring.
Nurul Sriyankem then fired wide in the 8th minute, before Guangzhou slowly but steadily regained their composure and began attacking Rattanai Songsangchan’s goal. However, both Huang Kaizhou and Liao were unable to bother Rattanai as their efforts went off-target.
Guangzhou’s hard work were paid off in the 49th minute, however, as the Chinese youngsters scored their first goal of this year’s ACL campaign. Yang Dejiang managed to send the ball forward towards Fan Hengbo in the left flank, who then in turn crossed it towards Ning Haoxu. Ning’s attempt struck Port defender Thitawee Aksornsri before making its way into Rattanai’s goal, drawing the scoreline level in the process.
Instead of galvanizing the Southern China Tigers, the equalizer served as a wakeup call for Port and the Lions of Khlong Toei showed their ferocity only four minutes later. The Bangkok-based side reclaimed their lead through Bordin Phala, who latched onto a through pass and blasted a cannonball beyond Zhang’s reaches.
Three minutes later another defensive error costed Guangzhou, as Zhang Zili made the fateful mistake in shoving Nurul within the area, leaving the referee no choice but to award Port a penalty. The spot kick was taken with perfection by Port captain David Rochela, who calmly sent goalkeeper Zhang the wrong way to make it 3-1 for the Lions of Khlong Toei.
Yet another fatal mistake by the Guangzhou defense allowed Port to pull themselves further from their opponents, this time in the 76th minute. A John Baggio corner made contact with Guangzhou defender Wang Wenxuan, but instead of clearing the ball away Wang inadvertently directed the ball into Zhang’s net, an own-goal that enabled Port to go 4-1 up.
Charyl Chappuis then planted the final nail on Guangzhou’s coffin in the third minute of injury-time, positioning himself in the right place at the right time to receive a Philip Roller pass before blasting a powerful shot into the top right corner of Zhang’s net, sealing the 5-1 win for Port.
The huge win allowed already-eliminated Port to finish their maiden ACL campaign with their heads held up high, finishing in 3rd place with 8 points from two wins over Guangzhou, a draw with Kitchee, a draw with Cerezo, and two defeats at the hands of the Hong Kongers and the Japanese.
As for 2-time ACL winner Guangzhou, failing to win any of their six matches with only one goal to their name may seem like a meek way to bow out of the competition, but the Southern China Tigers’ youngsters had learned a lot of valuable lessons from their experiences in Buriram, which would help them immensely in developing themselves as footballers capable enough of breaking their way into the first team.