Lion City Sailors set the tone as clubs from Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia combined to give southeast Asia its best-ever run in the continental championship with group-stage victories over South Korean rivals.
South Korea’s K-League is the most successful in the Asian Champions League with 12 titles, but Daegu FC became the first from the league to lose to Singaporean opposition, crashing to a 3-0 defeat against Lion City in Group F on Monday.
“This will be long remembered as a historic night,” said Lion City’s Korean coach Kim Do-hoon, who masterminded the first win for a Singaporean club in the Asian Champions League since 2010. Song Ui-young, Diego Lopes and Pedrao scored goals for the Sailors.
“The key was for my players to be confident in their ability,” Kim said. “We expected it to be tough. What was on my mind was not to concede too many and see how the game goes, but my boys gave everything on the pitch and executed according to how we prepared.”
Kim coached Ulsan Hyundai to its second Asian title in 2020. The Korean club’s chances of a third title have diminished following a 2-1 loss to Johor Darul Tazim of Malaysia in Group I.
Jeonnam Dragons lost 2-0 to BG Pathum United of Thailand in Group G to round off a day to forget for South Korean clubs in the second round of matches in the group stage.
Chinese clubs fared no better. Guangzhou FC and Shandong Taishan have both sent youth teams to the tournament as the group stage, held in centralized venues in the second half of April, clashes with the start of the Chinese Super League season.
On an opening day, Shandong followed its 7-0 loss to Daegu by losing 5-0 to Urawa Reds of Japan. Guangzhou, champion in 2013 and 2015, has lost 5-0 to Johor and 8-0 to Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale.
Australia’s hopes of having a representative in the knockout stages for the first time since 2016 have improved, with Melbourne City moving atop Group G with a 3-0 win over United City of the Philippines. Stefan Colakovski scored in the first half, and Marco Tilio scored twice after the break.
Saudi clubs are dominating in the western zone of a tournament split into geographic halves, with three of the country’s four teams, including deafening champion Al-Hilal, on top of their groups.