SOCCER

Stuttering Caroliners clear first hurdle

South China make hard work of beating nine-man Tampines Rovers in AFC Champions League play-off

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 February, 2014, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 February, 2014, 11:16pm

A misfiring South China struggled to cross the first of three hurdles in their hunt to become the first Hong Kong club to play in the AFC Champions League when they defeated nine-man Tampines Rovers of Singapore 2-1 away in extra time on Sunday night.

It was a stuttering performance from the Hong Kong champions who had only themselves to blame as they made life difficult by failing to hammer home the advantage after grabbing a one-goal lead in the 20th minute against a side who haven’t even started their new league season.

South China’s new Australian striker Andrew Barisic side-footed a shot from five yards out to give the visitors first blood. His strike completed a good move which began with Sasa Kajkut’s pinpoint through ball down the right flank to Lee Wai-lim whose cross was met by Barisic.

Rovers were reduced to 10 men in the 35th minute but South China spurned numerous chances with too many touches in front of goal.

The loss of midfielder Imran Sahib, for picking up his second yellow card, opened holes in the Singaporean side’s defence but none of South China’s three forwards, Barisic, Kajkut or Chan Siu-ki could deliver.

Despite being down a man, Rovers equalised through bustling forward Miljan Mrdakovic to push the game into extra time.

They had another player sent off in the second period of extra time, but by then a relieved Barisic, 27, had collected his second goal to seal the result.

Next up is Thailand’s Chonburi in Bangkok on Saturday. The Thais are no strangers to South China, having played in the same group at the AFC Cup competition in 2011 with the head-to-head count standing at 1-1.

Beat the Thais and South China will face China Super League team Beijing Guoan in the final play-off match to decide a berth in the region’s top club championship.

But South China will have to show a big improvement on last night’s shoddy performance.