Last April, the Lion City Sailors beat K League 1 side Daegu FC 3-0 for a historic first win in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL).
But there was no repeat of those heroics on Wednesday night (24 October) as the Sailors fell to a 3-0 loss to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in their ACL 2023/24 Group F clash at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium.
A disappointed Sailors Head Coach Aleksandar Ranković admitted his charges were beaten by a better team in their second ACL defeat of the season.
“Congratulations to Jeonbuk, they deserved this victory tonight. The result was a tough pill to swallow, even though we knew even before the game they had quality in their ranks,” said the Serbian, who acknowledged the gulf between the two teams.
“It was a difficult game and we were struggling especially in the first half. When you concede two very easy goals early on, you know it’s going to be a long evening ahead.”
It was indeed a long evening for the Sailors’ faithful, some of whom were present in the away section at Jeonju. In front of a boisterous partisan crowd of more than 4,800 fans, Jeonbuk took the lead after five minutes.
Japanese midfielder Jun Amano – who was the only foreign player to start for Jeonbuk on the night – curled an accurate left-footed shot from range into Zharfan Rohaizad’s bottom corner to stun the Sailors.
Up against a defence marshalled by Jeong Tae-uk and Hong Jeong-Ho, the likes of Maxime Lestienne and Richairo Živković found it tough to get a sniff of the ball as the Sailors struggled to get their engine into gear.
The Sailors would find themselves two goals down on 33 minutes, with defender Lionel Tan inadvertently turning home Lee Dong-jun’s cross into his own net.
Just before the interval, the visitors mustered their only shot on target all night, with Maxime’s near-post effort kept out by Jeonbuk custodian Kim Jeong-Hoon.
In a bid to add firepower upfront, forward Shawal Anuar came on in place of Lionel at the break, but the move did not manage to spark life into the Sailors.
Instead, it was South Korean international Moon Seon-min who would go on to seal the three points for two-time ACL winners Jeonbuk in the 57th minute.
The former Djurgårdens IF man capitalised on a Zharfan spilled cross, to tap the loose ball into an empty net to make it 3-0, a scoreline that remained until the final whistle.
The result means the Sailors remain third in Group F with three points in as many games. Jeonbuk move into second, three points behind leaders Bangkok United who ran out 2-1 winners over Kitchee SC in the night’s other Group F fixture.
Both sides set to face off again at Singapore’s Jalan Besar Stadium in two weeks’ time on November 8.
Despite the defeat, Ranko is certain his charges can only grow from this experience.
“I told my players in the dressing room: they can get better by playing in games like these. We can learn a lot from today, especially when it comes to the intensity of the game,” he pointed out.
“We might have lost today, but we still have one more game and it will be a different game playing at home with the artificial turf and weather. If there was one positive from today, it would be that we didn’t pick up any new injuries or red cards.”
Wide man Hafiz Nor agreed.
“It was a disappointing result for us tonight, but I’m hopeful that we can get a positive result with the home advantage in our next game,” said the 35-year-old, who came on as a 67th-minute substitute.
“We are thankful to the fans who showed up in Korea. They cheered us on regardless of the result and they will be crucial again when we face Jeonbuk back in Singapore.”