Muangthong United's quest for Champion's League success took a major step forward with a thrilling 2-1 win over Japan's Kashima Antlers in front of almost 13,000 fans at the Supachalasai Stadium, Tuesday February 28th.
With the win Muangthong United move to the top of GROUP E, after Ulsan Hyundai defeated Brisbane roar.
Before the match Head Coach Totchtawan Sripan was dealt the unfortunate news that Teerasil Dangda would have to ride the substitutes bench after sustaining an injury in the previous match with Police Tero. Along with the season ending injury to Sarach Yooyen earlier this month, this left two key starters out of the Kirin starting eleven.
Muangthong put up the first threat early in the match when Chanathip looked as if he was going to break through the middle. A few moments later the Kirin were awarded a free kick after Chanathip was upended by the Kashma captain Ryota Nagaki.
The Antlers did a poor job of setting up, and Theerathon stepped up to hit a beauty of a free kick shot around the wall for the opening goal of the match.
Muangthong were to have other chances in the half, including what looked to be a sure goal but the Antler's defender shot out the right leg to make the block.
Kashima were to threaten on a few occasions, and Kawin was forced into saves. The Antler's best chance came near the halfway mark, but a great defensive effort by Adison Promrak forced the poorly hit attempt to land in the side netting.
While the first half belonged to Muangthong United, Kashima dominated play in the second.
Kashima were able to equalize early in the second half with a fast break off a Kirin corner kick. Rushing down the right side of the pitch the ball was crossed in low towards the box, and Pedro Junior ran on to the pass for the goal.
Shortly after, the pressure from Kashima resulted in the third yellow card handed out to Muangthong United as Xisco came in with a late tackle. The other yellows were handed to Aoyama and to Theerathon for unsporstsman like behavious following referee decisions they disagreed with.
A Kashima free kick at 53 minutes, the 10th free kick of the game by this point, looked threatening, however the Kirin back line were well prepared and the shot was over the bar and out of bounds.
With Kashima dominating, Head Coach Totchtawan brought in Adisak Kraisorn at the 70th minute for Peerapat, and Sanukran for Mongkol Thosakrai.
Unfortunately for Muangthong United a penalty was called against them at the 80th minute. Amazingly the penalty strike went wide, and the score remained even going into the last ten minutes.
Then the domination of the second half by Kashima Antlers came to an abrupt end, when at the 5th minute of stoppage time, Xisco tapped in the poor clearance from the keeper to give the Kirin the victory. Said Xisco after the match, "It was a well deserved goal because the team had worked very hard all match."
It was a phenomenal moment for the Kirin, signalling to the rest of Asia that this team is able to compete with the best.
Said Head Coach Totchtawan, "We needed these 3 points, and Kashima a very strong team. Our plan was to play defensive first, then attack, and we got the result."
Muangthong United's next AFC Champions League match will be at Korea's Ulsan Hyundai on March 14th, 2017. This evening Ulsan won 6-0 at home over Brisbane Roar, the team the Kirin drew 0-0 with at home a week ago in Australia. Ulsan, however, lost their opening match, against Kashima Antlers, 2-0.