ACL race narrows as key challengers fall short

Port and Ratchaburi took major strides towards confirming their place in next seasons’ AFC Champions League, as challengers Chonburi, Buriram, Sukhothai and Bangkok United all dropped crucial points.

Just weeks remain until the first leg of the 2020-21 Thai League season concludes, and the country’s four representatives for the 2021 AFC Champions League are decided.

BG Pathum United already booked their tickets for a continental trip last weekend, and managed to secure a spot in the Group Stage on Friday night with their 2-0 win over Nakhon Ratchasima. The onus was on Port FC and Ratchaburi to make their Champions League places more secure over the weekend, while Chiangrai watched eagerly from afar, currently competing in this years iteration of Asia’s premier competition.

Port travelled to face chasers Chonburi on Saturday, with the hosts needing a win to keep their AFC Champions League hopes alive. Unfortunately for them, their guests from Klongtoei arrived in imperious form, collecting five wins on the bounce since the appointment of head coach Sarawut Treepha.

The Sharks started brightly, but were undone just before half time when Nelson Bonilla scored from the rebound of a corner kick, picking his spot at the near post to catch the Chonburi defense off guard. The hosts picked up the pace in the second half, taking the game to their visitors in search of an equaliser up until the game’s dying minutes. Goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool made his way up for a set piece and decided to remain in the opposition half for the entirety of stoppage time, with Port even missing a chance to score into his vacated net. They eventually killed the game off on a second breakway, with Adisak Kraisorn netting the sucker punch three minutes into stoppage time.

Elsewhere, Sukhothai dropped three major points against bottom side Rayong FC on the same evening, ending their last hopes of continental qualification as well. Rayong, under the guidance of new boss Masami Taki, picked up their second win of the campaign thanks to goals from Danilo and Anuchit Ngoenbokkhol.

These results were welcome news for Ratchaburi, who did their part by collecting three points against Suphanburi in Saturday’s late game. Usual suspects Yannick Boli and Steeven Langil were once again on the scoresheet to see out a 2-1 victory for the Dragons.

Sunday saw Bangkok United and Buriram take to the field, with their own hopes of ACL qualification hanging by a thread. The latter needed to win to stay in contention, while simply avoiding defeat would keep the possibility mathematically live for the Bangkok Angels.

Police Tero were the visitors to the Thammasat Stadium on Sunday, and came into the game without a win in eight matches. However, they managed to strike first against Bangkok United, hitting their hosts on the break before Kanokpon Buskapom finished off the move with an excellent volley over goalkeeper Warut Mekmusik. The Angels with positive changes in the second half, with young striker Nattawut Suksum coming off the bench to level the scoring for the home side, but the Angels were unable to push further and secure all three points.

Bangkok United may have been left frustrated by Sunday’s proceedings, but Buriram were closer to stunned and outraged when they were undone by a lethal counter-attacking performance by Samut Prakan City. The Sea Fang took the lead when Jaroensak Wonggorn’s blistering pace allowed him to break through down the right flank, and managed to squeeze his shot in at the near post aided by a goalkeeping error by normally reliable Siwarak Tedsungnoen.

The Thunder Castle kept up the pressure and managed to level the score thanks to another excellent header from Marko Scepovic, but long-range wonder-strikes from Chakkit Laptrakul and Barros Tardeli saw Masatada Ishii’s men overcome the challenge and emerge with all three points. This result is Buriram’s 6th loss of the season, and their 3rd at the Chang Arena – unprecedented figures for a club of their stature.

This result ensures that Buriram will not qualify for next season’s AFC Champions League, while both Bangkok United and Muangthong can still qualify on goal difference if they pick up all possible points over the next few weeks and either Ratchaburi and Chiangrai pick up none. Given the circumstances, this weekend may just be remembered as the most pivotal in 2020’s top four race.

gianchansrichawla

Thai League fan and writer. Editor at Football Tribe Asia. University student.

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