SINGAPORE: Singapore Premier League clubs Lion City Sailors and Hougang United sealed a crucial win in their respective Asian Champions League and AFC Cup matches in midweek. Both teams won with the same 2-1 scoreline, with the Sailors defeating Hong Kong’s Kitchee and Hougang United, collecting three points against Haiphong FC from Vietnam.
This is their first win in the group stage after suffering opening-day defeats. The Sailors went down 1-2 to Bangkok United in Group F of the Asian Champions League, while the Cheetahs (Hougang’s nickname) were defeated 3-1 by Malaysian club Sabah FC in the Group H match in AFC Cup.
The Sailors travelled to Hong Kong for their second match day against Kitchee on Oct 4. The visitors wasted no time asserting their dominance early in the match as they grabbed the opening goal through Richairo Zivkovic in the 14th minute. The Sailors doubled their lead in the 37th minute through Maxime Lestienne from the penalty spot. Kitchee’s Jakob Jantscher reduced the deficit in the 87th minute, but it was too late as the Hong Kong club suffered their second consecutive defeat.
Coach Aleksandar Rankovic and the players had to thank their goalkeeper, Zharfan Rohaizad, for his outstanding performance against Kitchee. Although he conceded a goal, there were numerous other occasions where he denied a goal-scoring opportunity from the opponents. His display between the goalposts on that night also earned him a spot in the AFC Champions League Team of the Round.
With their win against Kitchee, the Sailors are now third in Group F, level on three points with second-placed Jeonbuk Motors. Bangkok United are on top of the group with six points. The Sailors will travel to South Korea on Oct 25 to face Jeonbuk.
“What it means to me is that we can represent Singapore football in Asia. So that’s maybe the most important thing for me and the team. I think they’re very area of (the expectations) and they want to perform as best as they can,” said Sailors’ coach Rankovic in an exclusive interview posted by the club after their match against Kitchee.
Reflecting on their match day one loss to Thailand club Bangkok United, he added, “Of course the first game, I could also say we didn’t have a lot of luck, but we were very competitive and that’s what we want to put in every single game there. But the way things are going now, I can only be proud of my boys.”
“We want to compete but also to learn from it (Asian Champions League), and step by step trying to to make that gap between us and the bigger teams in Asia, smaller and smaller. But I know from experience that’s going to take some time, and that’s not a problem.”
For Hougang they came from a goal down to seal the win against Haiphong in their AFC Cup match that was held at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Oct 5.
Yuri Mamute scored from the penalty spot to give the visitors the lead in the 56th minute. But a late double from Player of the Match Djordje Maksimovic in the 82nd minute and in the third minute of injury time sealed the win for the Cheetahs.
“I’m delighted with the entire performance. Although we didn’t dominate, we had our chances and we defended well, causing them problems with our attacks, and particularly in the second half when we pushed more players forward. The turning point was the change in formation. I was confident that we could win the game from the second half onwards, and scoring the first goal was crucial,” said Hougang head coach Marko Krajlevic during the post-match interview.
Hougang is currently in third place with three points in Group H and will next travel to Indonesia to face PSM Makassar on Oct 25. Haiphong is also on three points but is in second place with a superior goal difference.