South China advance to AFC Cup last 16 after thrashing group H leaders Mohun Bagan
Caroliners dig deep to clinch third victory in a row to defeat Indian hosts, who field reserve players at match in Guwahati, and end up with nine points to seal second place
South China has joined Kitchee in the AFC Cup round of 16 after upsetting home team and group leaders Mohun Bagan of India 3-0 in their last group match on Wednesday night.
Having lost all their three opening matches, the Caroliners surprised with a strong come back to notch three wins in a row to book their place in the knockout stage.
They finished with nine points in group H, just one ahead of Yangon United who defeated Maziya of Maldives 3-2 in another match. The Indians lead the standings with 11 points.
South China will now have to travel away for the knockout game against group E winners, Ceres of the Philippines.
Only the group winners can enjoy home ground advantage in the knockout match.
All three goals came in the first half at Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, India, as the hosts fielded a line-up of mostly reserve players because Mohun would remain group winners regardless of the match result.
South China’s Law Hiu-chung connected a Ryan Griffiths cross to open the scoring on 19 minutes before Griffiths added to the tally midway through the first half.
Speedy forward Mahama Awal’s shot deflected off a Bagan player to seal the victory.
“It’s always tough playing in India as we have to come a long way from Hong Kong, but the boys did a good job,” said coach Ricardo Rambo.
“We still have to play in the Sapling Cup final [next Wednesday] and the players need a good recovery after another long journey back to Hong Kong.”
Team convenor Wallace Cheung Kwong-yung, who accompanied the team to India, paid tribute to the players.
“There was no way back as we had to achieve a good result despite playing in an away match against the group leaders,” said Cheung.
“But the boys did not let us down and settled the match with three goals in the first half for a well accomplished result.”