Experienced Richairo Zivkovic leads Lion City Sailors to Asian Champions League victory
Richairo Zivkovic’s resume is unlike most players who have played for a Singapore Premier League (SPL) club.
Once dubbed the ‘new Arjen Robben’ by the English media, he has scored for Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam, had a stint in the English Premier League and has netted 26 goals in the Dutch Eredivisie.
His quality is undoubted and the 27-year-old Curacaoan forward showed on Wednesday just why he was signed to spearhead the Lion City Sailors’ attack for their Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign as he scored the opener in their 2-1 win over Hong Kong Premier League champions Kitchee.
This was the Sailors’ first points of their Group F campaign, which began with a 2-1 home defeat by Bangkok United at Jalan Besar Stadium on Sept 20.
Zivkovic – a mid-season signing in July – had scored nine goals and notched three assists in eight domestic matches in the SPL and Singapore Cup prior to his first ACL strike on Wednesday.
It is in the Champions League, however, that the Sailors have hoped he can be a difference maker. Against Bangkok, Zivkovic cut a frustrated figure up top. But in front of 3,077 fans at the Hong Kong Stadium, he led the line expertly for 70 minutes before being subbed off.
In the 14th minute, he capitalised on a scuffed clearance from Kitchee captain Helio Goncalves before firing a powerful left-footed shot into the net.
While his celebrations after scoring in domestic competitions – including a hat-trick in a 7-0 win against Balestier Khalsa in his last outing – can be described as muted, a triumphant jump for joy showed exactly what the goal meant for the Sailors No. 34, who wears that number in tribute to Abdelhak Nouri.
His former Ajax teammate suffered a cardiac arrhythmia attack in 2017, which left him with severe and permanent brain damage and unable to continue his career as a footballer.
Maxime Lestienne then won, following a check by the video assistant referee, and converted a penalty in the 36th minute to double the visitors’ lead.
Kitchee pulled a goal back in the 87th minute when Austrian forward Jakob Jantscher powered a header past Zharfan Rohaizad but the Sailors held on for the vital win.
Sailors coach Aleksandar Rankovic said he was “very happy with the performance” but refused to comment on individual performances when asked about Zivkovic’s contributions and focused on the collective effort from his charges instead.
He added: “We came here to take the three points and that is exactly what we did. Every match, I get a question about individuals but I will never talk about that because it would be disrespectful to the rest of my players.
“Every guy in the squad, even those on the bench, had a contribution to this match. Everybody in the squad gave their 100 per cent (including) the guys that came off the bench and that is our strength this whole season.
“We have a really tight group that is eager to work for each other and for me, it is really easy to coach them.”
In their debut Champions League outing in 2022, the Sailors performed commendably. They beat South Korea’s Daegu FC and claimed four points against China’s Shandong Taishan to finish third in their group but missed out on progressing into the knockout rounds.
They are currently third in Group F with three points, behind Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on goal difference. Bangkok had beaten the South Korean giants 3-2 on Wednesday. The Sailors next face Jeonbuk at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Oct 25.