Football: Lion City Sailors all at sea in eye-opening defeat on ACL debut

Urawa Red Diamonds defender Takuya Iwanami challenging Lion City Sailors winger Gabriel Quak as the Japanese side won 4-1 in an Asian Football Confederation Champions League clash at Buriram Stadium in Thailand on Friday (April 15) night. LION CITY SAILORS

SINGAPORE - Too fast, too furious.

The Lion City Sailors huffed and puffed for 90 minutes on their Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) debut but the speed and intensity of Urawa Red Diamonds left the Singapore side in the dust as the Japanese outfit won 4-1 on Friday (April 15) night.

The defeat in the Group F clash at the Buriram Stadium in Thailand served as a reminder to the Sailors that even though they may be top dogs here after winning the Singapore Premier League (SPL) last year, they are still far off the standard of the continent's best.

While the Sailors are making their debut in the continental competition, Japanese Emperor's Cup holders Urawa have won the ACL in 2007 and 2017 and finished runners-up in 2019.

And the Singapore side, despite starting with all four of their foreigners - Kim Shin-Wook, Maxime Lestienne, Pedro Henrique and Diego Lopes - seemed to be taken aback by the speed of the game.

In the SPL, the Sailors are able to call the shots and dictate matches in the relatively slow-paced nature of the domestic league.

Here, against a relentless and quick Japanese side, the Sailors were asked plenty of questions, to which they had no answers.

Sailors coach Kim Do-hoon said the players were a bit nervous as it was their ACL debut and "looked different".

He added: "But they tried till the final whistle and didn't give up till the last minute. I am proud of that.

"But we have to face the reality. The reality is clear and that the level is different and I will accept it. But it (the gap) is going to be reduced through the five games that we have left.

"We will try to reduce the gap and prove ourselves. While in Buriram, we want to work to close the gap and to try and get closer to the top teams in Asia."

Sailors captain Hariss Harun said: "We need to be more composed. We were a little nervous and didn't get going at the start of the game. The more we play at this level, the more we will get used to it."

Urawa were quick off the blocks and within the first 15 minutes, the Sailors found themselves 2-0 behind. Both goals came from Urawa's left flank.

In the eighth minute, Japan international Ataru Esaka's cross was met by a header from Danish forward Kasper Junker, who found the far corner of the net after ghosting in between Sailors centre-back duo Henrique and Hariss.

Just seven minutes later, Esaka turned from provider to scorer. Yusuke Matsuo was given space and time to run into the box before picking out Esaka to side-foot into goal.

Gabriel Quak, who started the night at right midfield, and right-back Tajeli Salamat were particularly culpable for not being able to track their opponents and the former paid the price when he was hooked off for Hafiz Nor just 23 minutes into the game.

Urawa's David Moberg Karlsson bagged his side's third in the 42nd minute. But just a minute later, the Swedish playmaker inexplicably scored an own goal with a mishit pass which deceived his own goalkeeper and found the back of the net.

After the break, Urawa picked up from where they left off.

Two minutes into the second period, Matsuo was on hand to score his team's fourth as he tapped in at the far post into an empty net after Atsuki Itoh found his teammate in space. The Japanese side took their foot off the pedal after that.

While his side had an easy victory, Urawa coach Ricardo Rodriguez felt they could have won by a bigger margin.

He said: "I am satisfied with the victory but not fully satisfied because we could have scored more goals. We could have finished more of our attacks. We can play better in the future."

The Sailors will have their work cut out in their next game when they face Daegu on Monday. The K-League side thumped Chinese FA Cup champions Shandong Taishan 7-0 last night.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.