Johor Darul Ta'zim FC topped Ratchaburi Mitr Phol FC of Thailand in an all-ASEAN fixture Friday in the AFC Champions League. Singapore Premier League runners-up Tampines fell to 2008 ACL winners Gamba Osaka and 2019 Thai League champions Chiangrai fell to a 2-1 loss to Joenbuk Hyundai Motors FC.
Tampines impress despite defeat in Champions League bow
Playing in the group stages of the Champions League for the very first time, Tampines were expected by many to be humbled by a Gamba Osaka side that featured a handful of Japan internationals and finished runners-up in the 2020 J1 League.
However, the SPL side coached by Gavin Lee, only 30 years of age, held their own in their opener in Group H at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Tashkent. They controlled almost 60 per cent of the possession but were undone by the quality Gamba possessed as goals from Brazilians Patric and Leandro Pereira condemned them to a 2-0 defeat.
Tampines head coach's decision to field two 19-year-olds would have raised a few eyebrows before the game, but performances from Marc Ryan Tan, who played on the right wing, and Ryaan Sanizal who partnered 43-year-old Daniel Bennett in central defence, proved that Gavin's trust in youth was well warranted.
Though Tampines won't be expected to put up too much of a resistance, their matches against the seasoned campaigners in the group will be a valuable experience for their players, especially for the likes of Marc and Ryaan who are among the six U-23 players in the Stags squad for the Uzbekistan trip.
Meanwhile, Chiangrai also produced an impressive display against South Korean champions Jeonbuk but went down to the two-time champions 2-1 in the other match of the group. Lee Seung-gi and Gustavo had given the South Koreans a 2-0 lead and a strike from Ekanit Panya was not enough to avoid a defeat for Chiangrai in the opener.
The Beetles are in the group stages of the Champions League for the second season running and would be hoping to progress to the knockout stages this time around. Despite an opening match loss, Chiangrai will still target the Round of 16 by leaping in front of Gamba Osaka who have had a terrible season domestically in Japan.
They will next face Tampines on June 28 before games against Gamba on July 1 and 4.
Johor back on track with victory in all-ASEAN clash
There was a Malaysian victory against the Thais for the second time in as many weeks as Johor overcame Ratchaburi 1-0 in their second match in Group G of the AFC Champions League.
It was only on June 15 that a Malaysian national team, predominantly featuring JDT stars, got the better of Thailand by the same scoreline in their final 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Joint-Qualifiers second round fixture.
Both Johor and Ratchaburi had begun their campaign with contrasting defeats. While the Malaysian Super League champions felt hard done by in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Nagoya Grampus in their opener, the Thai League 1 outfit were lucky to concede only a 2-0 loss to Pohang Steelers.
Looking for their first win of the campaign, both teams were quick on the attack at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok and Steeven Langil threatened to open the scoring for the hosts as early as the fifth minute.
However, that proved to be a rare attempt from the Dragons as Johor soon took control of the game and went close through Brazilian forward Bergson da Silva who hit the woodwork in the 19th minute.
Goalkeeper Kampol Pathomakkakul proved to be Ratchaburi's star performer denying JDT several times including a Bergson penalty in the 29th minute. But his resistance was finally broken two minutes into the restart when Leandro Velazquez produced a stunner to give all three points to the Malaysian side.
The win has JDT climbing to second in the group with three points from two matches. They sit three behind leaders Nagoya and level on points with third-placed Pohang who lost 3-0 to the Japanese side earlier in the day and will now take on JDT in their next match on June 28.
In their third season in Asia's top club tournament, Johor find themselves with their biggest chance yet of securing knockout football in the Champions League.
Benjamin Mora's side have shown the mettle to bounce back after a controversial defeat in their first match and a good showing against three-time Asian champions Pohang in back-to-back games in the coming week will do their chances of progress a world of good.