BG Pathum United will be counting on the strike duo of Diogo Luis Santo and Teerasil Dangda when they face AFC Champions League (ACL) holders Ulsan Hyundai on Tuesday.
The Thai champions kicked off their Group F campaign with a convincing 4-1 victory over Kaya FC on Saturday. However, they now go from playing arguably the weakest side in the competition to clashing with the reigning champions.
Ulsan needed a very late winning goal in their first match to defeat Vietnam’s Viettel. It was certainly an underwhelming performance from the South Koreans, but they will be determined to follow it up with an improved display against BGPU.
Diogo and Teerasil hold the key
At the midway point of the 2020-21 season, BGPU added possibly the best player in Thai League history and one of the all-time Thailand greats to a squad that was already sitting top of the table.
It was a clear statement that they did not intend to be caught by anyone, and that was exactly how it worked out as they coasted to the title.
However, the impact of an injury-plagued Teerasil was minimal. Diogo provided some spectacular moments but he was used sparingly as the squad was rotated. In all probability, BGPU would have become champions without this formidable strike pairing, but they are very much vital to the Thai side in this tournament.
In Saturday’s win, Teerasil and Diogo both netted twice, with the Brazilian also adding an assist and drawing the foul that resulted in a red card.
Ulsan will obviously provide a much sterner test than the Filipino defence, but these are two strikers with plenty of experience at this level, and they represent BGPU’s best hope of earning at least a point.
Assuming that BGPU are likely to be battling Viettel for second place, it is important that the Thai side gain an edge by getting a positive result against the Asian champions.
Sumanya the set piece specialist
A few eyebrows were raised when Sumanya Purisai was named as the Thai League’s 2020-21 Thai MVP in Saturday’s awards ceremony. The playmaker did have an important role to play in BGPU’s title triumph, but it could certainly be argued that several of his Thai teammates played a more influential part.
But something that Sumanya did very well was deliver many of the set pieces that were vital to the successful league campaign. Centre-backs Andres Tunez and Victor Cardozo headed more than a dozen goals between them from corners or free kicks as this became one of Dusit Chalermsan’s side’s trademark weapons.
New head coach Aurelio Vidmar kept Sumanya on the bench on Saturday, perhaps mindful of the heavy schedule for a 34-year-old who had just returned from international duty in the UAE. Debutant Kevin Ingreso was handed the main corner kick taking responsibility, but his deliveries generally failed to trouble the Kaya backline.
While Diogo and Teerasil will pose a different kind of threat, Sumanya’s set pieces and guile could be decisive in a game that may be decided by fine margins.
Ulsan aiming for 11 in a row
In these unusual times, you have to go back 16 months to the last time Ulsan failed to win an ACL match they were involved in. The 1-1 group stage draw with FC Tokyo in February 2020 was the first match in what was to be a victorious campaign.
Since that fixture, they have won 10 times on the trot in the tournament. Ulsan came within minutes of seeing their winning streak end at nine, but they found a goal in added time to defeat Viettel on Saturday.
This impressive run of results highlights the scale of BGPU’s challenge when they face the current K League 1 leaders. Saturday’s performance from Ulsan was disjointed and sometimes sloppy, but nothing should be read into it.
The Group F favourites had a bad day at the office and still came away with three points. It seems highly unlikely that they will play as poorly again, so BGPU will have to raise their game to have a chance of ending that 10-match run.