Richairo Živković and his two goals headlined the Lion City Sailors’ crucial 2-0 Group F win over nine-time K League 1 champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on Matchday Four of the 2023/24 Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) earlier this month.
However, beneath that was a true team performance that saw several Sailors step up to be counted – including Pedro Henrique who put up a sterling display at the heart of defence in what was his first competitive start since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in September 2022.
Pedro was in contention to play a big role from the start of the ACL campaign, but unfortunately suffered another injury setback two weeks before the opening match against Bangkok United that led to another spell on the sidelines.
“Being such a long time away from top-level games, I was a bit unsure at certain points, but as a team we had a game plan, we trained very well, and I was prepared to face the challenges in that match,” said the 30-year-old, whose previous only appearance of the year was a 60-minute outing in July’s Tiger Cup against Tottenham Hotspur.
“We concentrated throughout the game against Jeonbuk and thank God we came out with the win. This result is a huge morale-booster for the team and also myself – I’m really happy to finally be able to complete 90 minutes of a high-level game.”
Aleksandar Ranković’s men were extremely pumped up that night and that electricity on the pitch was encapsulated by M. Anumanthan – who covered every blade of the grass and threw himself into every midfield duel.
And the Singapore international is determined to bring that same fiery desire into the crucial away clash against Group F leaders Bangkok United, who are table-toppers in Thai League 1 and unbeaten in 15 matches across four competitions this season.
Now on six points, four behind Bangkok United (10 points) and level with second-placed Jeonbuk, a good result at the Thammasat Stadium will give the Sailors a fighting chance of qualification going into the final game, at home against Kitchee on 13 December.
“We wanted to prove something so badly against Jeonbuk, that’s why we were so fired up out there, and that win shows that our team is capable of competing at the highest level,” said the 29-year-old.
“We know Bangkok are a quality team and it won’t be easy to play in front of their fans at their home, but we’ve already shown what we can do in this competition.
“When we played them at home, we were leading and controlling at 1-0 before conceding through a corner and that turned the game. The difference isn’t much between both teams and we have to go out there to perform to our best again.”
Pedro and his Sailors will need another top-drawer performance to come away with something from Bangkok, especially with defensive partner Manuel Herrera López (Súper) suspended after accumulating three yellow cards.
And the former Vitória Guimarães man is raring to go again to perform in a competition that has already seen the best of him – he was a star performer in the Sailors’ maiden voyage last season that saw him bag goals against Daegu FC and Shandong Taishan.
“It motivates me to know that I’ve done well at this level before. I want to keep doing well for the club because this is the biggest club football competition in Asia. I’m now feeling fitter and fitter after all the physical and tactical training, and I’m confident that I can do even better now,” said Pedro.
“For us, we’re treating this Bangkok match like a final – we need to win to give ourselves a fighting chance of qualification going into the last game. They’re a good team that plays very good passing football, but we’ve been preparing hard to face that.
“If we apply what we’ve been practicing, I’m sure we’ll come away with the three points.”
The year looks set for an exciting but hectic final few weeks, with a two-legged Singapore Cup semi-final on 3 and 6 December – and a possible final on the 9th – before the year-ending 13 Dec clash against Kitchee.
And Anu believes the team can rise to the challenge.
“It’ll be tiring for sure, but we’re professionals and this should excite us instead of scaring us,” he said.
“We know what we have to do – we know how to take care of ourselves and we have to make sure we all turn up on match day.”