Asia AFC Champions League

Ventforet Stave Off Buriram Comeback to Continue Fairytale Run

Ventforet Kofu made history as the first second division side to advance into the AFC Champions League knockouts as the 2022 Emperor’s Cup champions survived a Buriram United comeback to edge the Thai champions out 3-2 at the Chang Arena on Tuesday.

While not the first second division side to appear in the ACL knockouts – Saudi Arabia’s Al-Faisaly being the first following their relegation from the top-flight in the lengthy interval between the group stages and the knockouts of the 2022 ACL – Ventforet made history as the first second division side outright to qualify out of their group and into the round of 16, as winners of their group no less.

And they did so with a blistering performance in Buriram, blowing apart the home side in a thorough 3-0 dismantlement within the first half before staving off the Thunder Castles’ valiant resistance in the second.

Motoki Hasegawa provided the visitors with the lead after 24 minutes, seizing the opportunity by dispossessing a defender and slotting the ball into the net from the left side of the penalty area.

Journeyman veteran striker Peter Utaka netted two goals before half-time, capitalizing on fortunate bounces of the ball that eluded the Buriram defenders’ control.

In the 38th minute, Utaka directed a volley into a defender’s chest, but he quickly reacted to the rebound, beating his opponents to the ball and scoring.

Just two minutes before half-time, he found the back of the net again, this time off a corner kick. A bouncing ball eluded the defenders and reached him at the far post, where he calmly poked it in.

Buriram narrowed the gap to just one goal in the early stages of the second half, courtesy of goals from Arthit Boodjinda and Goran Causic.

Arthit displayed a remarkable individual performance, carrying the ball through the last third of the pitch and finding the back of the net three minutes into the second half, bringing the score to 3-1. Shortly thereafter, Causic converted a penalty awarded for a handball committed by defender Shion Inoue in the penalty area.

But it was all too late for Buriram, as the defeat, combined with Zhejiang FC’s 1-1 draw with Melbourne City, ensured that the Thai champions would finish bottom of their group – an anticlimactic ending for the Thunder Castles as they had started off their campaign with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Zhejiang.

Overall it has been a disappointing ACL for Southeast Asian sides, with BG Pathum United, Johor Darul Ta’zim, Kaya FC-Iloilo, Lion City Sailors and Hanoi FC having been eliminated earlier.

True Bangkok United are Southeast Asia’s sole representative in this season’s ACL knockouts, winning a relatively manageable group that has Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Kitchee SC, and LCS.

As for Ventforet, the plucky J.League 2 side are set to rub shoulders with Asia’s elite in the round of 16 which will be played on February of next year.