Sailors suffer heavy defeat but cast their eyes on final ACL group match
An hour before the Lion City Sailors faced Japanese giants Urawa Red Diamonds in their Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) Group F encounter on Wednesday (April 27), it was clear where head coach Kim Do-hoon's priorities lie.
Kim named an under-strength side who were given a 6-0 thumping by Urawa at the Buriram City Stadium, but the Singaporean outfit will not be too flustered for they have their eyes set on Saturday's more crucial tie with South Korean side Daegu FC.
Three of the Sailors' four imports – Belgian winger Maxime Lestienne, South Korean forward Kim Shin-wook and Brazilian playmaker Diego Lopes – started on the bench against Urawa, along with Singapore internationals Song Ui-young and Gabriel Quak who both starred in the 3-2 victory over Shandong Taishan on Sunday.
Reserve forwards Haiqal Pashia, Amiruldin Asraf and midfielder Adam Swandi were handed starting berths instead.
The Sailors, who had shocked Daegu 3-0 last Monday, will be hoping for another victory against the South Korean side in the reverse fixture on Saturday. This will help them secure second spot in the group behind Urawa, putting them in a strong position for a historic spot in the knockout stages.
The group winners and three best runners-up from the east region's five groups will advance to the round of 16.
The Sailors have seven points from five games, level with Daegu, who are expected to collect another three points when they face Shandong on Wednesday night.
However, the results against the bottom teams will be omitted in the ranking of the three best runners-up. In that vein, the Sailors only have three points while Daegu, who won one game and drew the other against Urawa, have four point thus setting up a grandstand finish on Saturday.
On Wednesday, Urawa dominated proceedings from kick-off and scored the opener in the 14th minute when Kazuaki Mawatari's shot squeezed under Sailors custodian Hassan Sunny and into the goal.
While the veteran goalkeeper who has been in fine form during the campaign, would have been disappointed at failing to keep the ball out for the first goal, there was nothing he could do about the second as Dutch forward Alex Schalk rifled in to the bottom corner in the 39th minute.
David Moberg Karlsson added the third for his side in the 48th minute when he ghosted in at the far post and finished with a header. Yoshio Koizumi scored the fifth in the 52nd minute before Yusuke Matsuo netted a brace with strikes in the 62nd and 90th minute.
Coach Kim said: "Before coming into today's match, I had to think about the remaining one (against Daegu) as well. It is a very tough schedule in the ACL. My idea was to have the starting players hold the opponents in the first half before adjusting in the second half.
"I was trying to see what I can do with my team and come up with the best solution and preparation for the final two matches. By conceding early, it made it difficult but it was a great experience for the boys who started. If we continue to focus and play, we will develop."
Hassan said: "It was a tough day for us and we hope to come back back stronger for the next game. It's going to be tough against Daegu but I believe coach Kim will ensure that we bounce back stronger for our last game, both physically and mentally."
Meanwhile, in a Group G game at Buriram's Chang Arena, Thai side BG Pathum United, whose imports include Singaporeans Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi, drew 0-0 with Melbourne City. A draw in their final group match against Jeonnam Dragons will be enough for Pathum to book their round-of-16 spot for a second consecutive season.