Score the first goal, earn the first point, eke out a first win, and then build from there.
Those were the targets set by Head Coach Kim Do-hoon for the Lion City Sailors as they embarked on their maiden Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) campaign.
But even the most optimistic of fans could not have predicted that the Sailors would hit all the targets in just their second-ever ACL game.
Last night (18 April), Kim’s men played with their heads in the right place and hearts on their sleeves to beat Daegu FC 3-0.
In doing so, they became the first Singapore side to beat a K-League team, and the first to score three goals in an ACL game. The Sailors are also only the second-ever club from the country to win a game in the ACL, as well as keep a clean sheet in the competition. The now-defunct SAFFC were the first team to achieve those milestones, with their 2-1 victory over China’s Henan Jianye in April 2010, as well as a goalless draw against Henan that same year.
“It’s a great upset that we caused and a historic night for the Lion City Sailors, and I want to thank and congratulate my players. I really want to enjoy this with them and the fans, but the next game is just around the corner,” stressed the 2020 ACL winner, Kim.
“We’ve to rest well, continue to work hard to get more points and try our best (in the remaining four group matches) to qualify for the last 16.”
Few would have predicted the result – this after 2021 K League 1 second runners-up Daegu – who reached the ACL Round of 16 as recently as last year – thrashed China’s Shandong Taishan 7-0 while the Sailors went down to a 4-1 defeat to Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds on their competition debut three days earlier.
But Kim Do-hoon – who holds a record of eight wins from 15 matches against Daegu when he was in charge of Ulsan Hyundai and was undefeated in seven previous encounters – had something up his sleeve, despite an injury sustained by star frontman Kim Shin-wook in the build-up to the game.
Korean-born Singaporean Song Ui-young led the line well in place of Wookie – who has a record of six goals and three assists in 16 appearances against Daegu – and became the first Sailors player to net in the ACL, before Brazilian imports Diego Lopes and Pedro Henrique joined him on the scoresheet on a night to remember.
Cannot? The Sailors certainly can.
They burst right out of the blocks at the Buriram City Stadium in their all-blue away kit, and came close to scoring after just two minutes, when Song’s shot ricocheted off the post.
Hassan Sunny pulled off a blinding save at the other end to keep out a long-range scorcher by Daegu midfielder Bruno Lamas in the 13th minute, but few would say the Sailors did not deserve the lead they took eight minutes later.
Song leaped like a salmon to connect with Maxime’s gorgeous left-wing cross and sent the ball looping over a bemused Choi Young-eun in the Daegu goal.
Kissing the Singapore flag emblazoned down the middle of his Sailors jersey as he wheeled away in celebration, Song stayed true to his words before the match.
“We had a chat at meal time earlier in the day and Song promised to have a good game if he played in place of Shin-wook. He kept his promise and that’s the most important thing,” revealed Coach Kim.
“He played in the no. 9 position last year in the league, so I know his ability in this position and he’s also a role model who is ready to play in any position for the team.”
Song, who was a constant thorn in the side of the Daegu defence on a night he was named Man of the Match, asserted that the goal fuelled the team’s confidence.
“When I connected with the ball, I had a good feeling that the ball was going in and it did. I was very happy to score, and after that all of us felt that we could go on to win the game,” said the 28-year-old.
“This win is not just for Lion City Sailors fans, it’s also for Singapore football.”
The Sailors took the one-goal lead into the break, but Daegu upped their ante in the second half and fashioned enough goal-scoring opportunities to turn the game around. Hassan stood tall in the Sailors’ goal, pulling off a few big saves to keep his team in front. Daegu were also uncharacteristically profligate in front of goal: captain Kim Jin-hyuk inexplicably failed to convert from a yard out, while 2012 AFC Player of the Year Lee Keun-ho saw his effort hit the woodwork.
Kim’s men rode out the storm, stuck to their tasks, fending off wave after wave of Daegu attacks before sealing the historic win with two goals in the latter stages of the game.
In the 71st minute, Maxime and Diego combined expertly in a lightning quick counter-attacking move that took out Daegu goalkeeper Choi, with the latter then showing the composure to slam home past two Daegu defenders on the line.
The win was secured nine minutes later, with Pedro glancing in a header off Shahdan Sulaiman’s corner.
Kim’s men remained focused till the final whistle while Daegu ended the night with 10 men after Hong Chul was dismissed for a reckless lunge on Song.
The Sailors are now second in Group F, three points behind leaders Urawa, who demolished Shandong 5-0 on the same night.
The result and performance have now provided the Sailors with a solid platform to build on ahead of a crucial double-header against Shandong on 21 and 24 April.
“To cope, excel and get a result against a big team while playing during the Ramadan period is a proud moment for our boys,” said Kim.
“We put our heads down, kept our cool and played with confidence tonight – that’s something we need to keep doing to give our fans more to be proud of and excited about.”