Port FC held on for a 1-1 draw against Cerezo Osaka in their third game of the AFC Champions League group stage, leaving them in contention for a place in the knockout stage
Just three days after their first match against Cerezo Osaka, Port will have to face the J.League side once again in the ‘reverse fixture.’ Based on their last game, it is hard to determine how they will fare against what is expected to be a stronger lineup this time out, and they may end up needing all three points to hold on to their chances of qualification.
Cerezo vs Port (1st game) Recap
Group leaders Cerezo struggled in their game against Kitchee, emerging with a narrow 2-1 win after going behind against the Hong Kong champions. Despite that, the side heavily rotated against Port, leaving their foreign stars and Japanese national team quality players on the sidelines.
The J-League outfit created more chances in the first half, registering 12 shots compared to Port’s five. However, Cerezo would be forced to fight back from behind once again, as a stunning effort from Pakorn Prempak from deep inside his own half caught the goalkeeper off his line and found its way into the net from a distance Patrick Schick would goggle at.
Cerezo reacted by introducing Hiroshi Kiyotake and Tatsuhiro Sakamoto in the second half, changing the tide of the match. Port did well to stifle Cerezo’s new attacking threats, but all it took was one moment of magic to level the scoring. The substitutes combined, as former Japan international Kiyotake picked out the newly capped Sakamoto with a brilliant back heel pass, creating a chance that the winger was unlikely to miss.
Unhappy with just a point, Port pushed forward in search of a winner, leaving them exposed in defence. Substitute goalkeeper Watchara Buathong came to the side’s rescue in the final minute of normal time with a brilliant save to deny Ayumu Seko from point-blank range and keep ahold of the point.
Known for rarely adapting their approach, Port changed to a 4-3-3 for this game, brining in Kannarin Thawornsak to provide extra cover for Siwakorn Jakkuprasat and Go Suel-ki in midfield. Roller was back to his best with the permission to attack from right-back, while Thitathorn Aksornsri kept his place as the ‘defensive option’ on the left.
Port held their own well against the Japanese side, but the second game will be a far more daunting prospect with Cerezo’s regular first team players expected to come back in. Australian international Adam Taggart and Brazilian central defender Tiago Pagnussat are expected to start, having featured against both Guangzhou and Kitchee, in addition to the previously mentioned Kiyotake and Sakamoto.
Port vs Cerezo (2nd game) Preview
Cerezo’s first-eleven struggled to break down Kitchee for long spells of the game, managing only five shots on target despite controlling 70% possession due to the solidity of their opponents’ deep block. However, Port rarely ever set up their team for a defense-first approach, and are unlikely to do so in this match as well.
Meanwhile, unlike their opponents, Port have not made most use of the depth in their squad, and accumulated fatigue could become an issue for them as the campaign drags on.
Additionally, results elsewhere make the scale of Port’s task even more daunting. The way the tournament’s other groups are panning out, 10 points will likely not be enough for a side to progress via the second place rankings. For the Klongtoei Lions, balancing their new need for a win with enough defensive solidity to hold Cerezo at bay will pose a significant challenge.