Lion City Sailors shock South Korea's Daegu 3-0 to record first ACL win
The Lion City Sailors used their heads and hearts in a smart and spirited display as they beat South Korea's Daegu FC 3-0 at the Buriram City Stadium in Thailand on Monday (April 18) to secure their maiden AFC Champions League win.
This is also the first victory a Singaporean side have recorded in the tournament proper since the now-dormant Warriors FC beat Chinese club Henan Jianye 2-1 in 2010 en route to finishing third in their group.
After losing 4-1 to Urawa Red Diamonds in their Group F opener on Friday, the win revives the Sailors' hopes of making it into the knockout stage, as they climb to second place thanks to a better head-to-head record against Daegu. The three best runners-up in the five east region groups will join the group winners in the round of 16.
While Daegu, who finished third in K League 1 last year, were the favourites to beat the Sailors after thumping China's Shandong Taishan 7-0 on Friday, the Singapore Premier League champions impressed as they took the game to their more established opponents, especially in the first half.
Sailors coach Kim Do-hoon decisively made three changes to the line-up that started against the Diamonds, as Kim Shin-wook, Gabriel Quak and M. Anumanthan made way for Amirul Adli, Faris Ramli and Song Ui-young. In doing so, he switched from Friday's 4-3-3 to a back-three and started without a natural striker, which proved a masterstroke.
Song, in particular, was chomping at the bit as a false nine and took less than two minutes to wriggle free on the edge of the area and unleash a deflected effort onto the post. Fifteen minutes later, he narrowly missed out on knocking in Iqram Rifqi's square pass.
The Sailors also had goalkeeper Hassan Sunny to thank for an excellent flying stop to deny Bruno Lamas' left-footed shot in the 13th minute, before Song ghosted in between two defenders to head in Maxime Lestenne's pin-point pick-out for the 21st-minute opener.
It was all about producing a resolute and disciplined defensive display in the second half, and the Sailors did that and more. They withstood an initial storm in which Daegu kept probing and even struck the post in the 63rd minute, before Lopes led a lightning counter-attack and clinically picked his spot from Lestienne's cutback eight minutes later to double their lead.
Centre-back Pedro Henrique added the icing on the cake in the 80th minute when he headed in Shahdan Sulaiman's corner to take their goal difference back to level terms.
In contrast, Daegu's night went from bad to worse when their national defender Hong Chul was sent off in the 89th minute for a poor challenge on Song.
Kim's men will now turn their attention to a double-header against bottom side Shandong - who are using their reserve squad for this competition - on Thursday and Sunday.
Meanwhile in Group G, Singapore striker Ikhsan Fandi started for Thailand's BG Pathum while his older brother and national centre-back Irfan was not in the matchday squad as they beat South Korea's Jeonnam Dragons 2-0 in Pathum Thani to temporarily top Group G after two games before Australia's Melbourne City take on Filipino side United City later in the day.