Port FC kicked off their AFC Champions League campaign with a disappointing 2-0 loss against Hong Kong side Kitchee, and now must learn the lessons from that defeat ahead of Sunday’s match against Guangzhou FC.
The Klongtoei side’s hotly anticipated group stage debut was both literally and figuratively rained on as Port failed to break down a resolute Kitchee in Buriram’s Thunder Castle. After hitting the crossbar twice in the first half, the Thai side slumped to a 2-0 defeat courtesy of a brilliant instinctive volley from a set-piece and then a classic counter-attack. Port now have to pick themselves up in time to face Guangzhou FC in a game which could have significant ramifications for this group.
Normally Chinese Super League powerhouses, Guangzhou have sent their second team to this competition due to travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines back home. The young side were beaten 2-0 by Cerezo Osaka in their opening match, and were thoroughly outplayed by the J.League outfit.
Kitchee Vs Port Match Summary
Port started the game brightly, with John Baggio hitting the bar from close to point-blank range after just two minutes when he rushed in to intercept a soft pass from Kitchee goalkeeper Paulo Cesar. Bordin Phala joined his new teammate in striking the woodwork five minutes later, this time from a free kick.
The Hong Kong side punished Port for their missed opportunities 10 minutes before half-time from a set-piece routine. Helio’s header deflected back off the bar and Roberto Junior reacted quickly to volley the ball past Worawut Srisupha and into the net.
Forced to chase the equaliser, the Thai club created a fair number of chances to get back into the game. Philip Roller had an effort cleared off the line in the 52nd minute, while Elias Dolah had a pair of headers go just wide of the target.
The Klongtoei lions were then hit with a sucker punch in the 78th minute, as Kitchee launched a devastating counter-attack, with Cleiton picking out star striker Dejan Damjanovic at the back post to put the result beyond doubt. The Montenegrin forward’s goal was his first in the competition with his new club, and saw him draw level with the tournament’s all-time goalscoring record of 37.
All eyes were on new stars Baggio and Philip Roller, who made their debuts for their new club on Thursday evening, but they felt distinctly out of place and yet to adapt. The latter is arguably the league’s most devastating player when deployed on the right-flank, yet he spent most of his time in attacking midfield struggling to find space and affect the game. Neither of the pair were able to give the best account of themselves in this match.
The squad was considerably off balance, likely a product of the club’s desire to field all of their star players on the same pitch with little regard to how they would function as a system. Port’s deep squad should be an incredible asset during this tournament, with 6 games to be played in just 16 days, but instead it appears to be a burden for those tasked with picking a starting lineup.
While the glaring misses are the most notable slip-ups, coach Sarawut Treephan should instead reflect on the difficulty the side had in progressing into the final third. The little intricate plays the side have been known to pull off in the domestic league were largely absent, and a the lack of speed and intensity in the buildup was clearly visible.
The Next Opponents
Port will be hopeful of bouncing back when they face Guangzhou, who have sent their second team to the competition. In their 2-0 loss to Cerezo Osaka, the Chinese side spent most of their time in a deep defensive block, surrendering possession to their more experienced opponents.
Given that evidence, Port could face a similar game dynamic to the one just passed, controlling possession with the aim of breaking down defensively resolute opponents. Therefore, the lessons which Sarawut Treephan and has players can take away from their most recent defeat will be even more important.
With two back-to-back matches against Cerezo Osaka to follow, Port will likely need all three points against the youthful Chinese side to keep their hopes of progressing to the knockout stage alive.