Newcomers Citizen learned a hard lesson of Asian soccer as they lost 3-1 to Home United of Singapore in the AFC Cup last night.
Playing in their first match of the regional cup tournament, the visitors made a convincing start with a goal from Japanese forward Yuto Nakamura giving them an early lead at Bishan Stadium, but a drastic drop in energy levels in the second half saw them run ragged by Home United, who banged in three goals.
In another group G match, Chonburi of Thailand were held 1-1 by home team Yangon United of Myanmar. The Thais are widely regarded as group favourites as they entered the second-tier regional competition after losing in the Asian Champions League preliminaries.
Citizen officials admitted there was a lot they could learn from the defeat. 'This was a great lesson for the lads,' said Citizen executive director Calvin Pui Ho-wang. 'We had a perfect first half when we were full of energy but the players found it very difficult to hang in there in the heat and humidity during the second half and could do little to stop their opponents. They should know this is what they are going to face in the next two away matches and if they want to advance to the next stage, they have to be much better prepared, physically and mentally.'
Pui admitted it was disappointing having had the lead in an away match but returning empty-handed. However, he was confident they could make amends when taking on the Singaporeans at home. 'The difference between the two sides was not reflected by the score,' he said. 'We are pretty sure the return match will be in our favour when taking out the weather factor.'
Nakamura, who scored a brilliant right footer in the 44th minute when he curled home from the left, also felt deflated by the result.
'This was the first time I played in the AFC Cup and it was great to score a goal,' he said. 'But our energy level went down quickly in the second half, partly because of the weather, but also because of muscle fatigue worsened by having played a home match over the weekend, and our opponents took full advantage of it. We do not have the experience of playing at this regional level but it will definitely change after this first game.
'We must win our next match against Yangon United at home in two weeks if we are to have any hope in the tournament.'
Home United coach Lee Lim-saeng, a former South Korea international who played in the 1998 World Cup finals, said he urged his players to go on the attack after the break.
'We did not take sufficient initiative in the first half, but it changed after the break and things worked out,' he said.
Shotaro Ihata levelled for the home team 17 minutes after the break and Frederic Mendy put them ahead just two minutes later, slotting home from close range after goalkeeper Tse Tak-him could merely deflect a Qiu Li shot.
Citizen's Yuan Yang and Helio Goncalves both missed the target before Qiu, one of two Singapore internationals in the Home United side, sealed victory with a powerful low drive in the closing stages.