It was a dream debut for Ruslan Mingazov as Kitchee SC held off Chiangrai United 1-0 in their opening AFC Champions League (ACL) group J game on Saturday night. The reigning Hong Kong champions scored the only goal after 16 minutes at a humid Buriram City Stadium in Thailand, with a beautifully placed shot from the edge of the box from new signing Mingazov . The experienced Turkmenistan winger, in for the injured South Korean Park Jun-hyung, was impressive throughout as a dangerous-looking Kitchee caught Chiangrai on the counter-attack. Captain Helio Goncalves and goalkeeper Paulo Cesar, who appears to have replaced Wang Zhenping as first choice, had a quiet first half at the “Thunder Castle” but were called on in a jittery last quarter. There will be few complaints from manager Alex Chu Chi-kwong after “The Bluebirds” showed little sign of having not played competitively in more than three months. “It was our first game after a long time away, so we wanted to wait for our opponents to open up before we attacked,” Chu said. “This was a very useful game – our performance was really good and we closed the ball fast when we lost it and countered really well. The players worked hard. “There are still some things we need to change. We didn’t get to the level that we wanted to. Hopefully we will get there in the next two games.” Chu said that debutant Mingazov’s speed and consistent delivery had “changed our attacking outlet, and helps the team overall”. He added that there was work to be done on areas such as foul throw-ins and unforced loss of possession. Star player Dejan Damjanovic was unable to extend his all-time ACL goalscoring record – the Montenegrin has as many career ACL goals as his age, with 40. Veteran midfielder Raul Baena put in a trademark defensive shift, while Cleiton ignited Kitchee in attack. Former Manchester City academy player Sean Tse Ka-keung also had a no-nonsense ACL debut. Kitchee last played in January, before the Hong Kong Premier League season was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. They had played closed-doors friendlies during their Thailand training camp that began five weeks ago. Despite prematch worries after full-back Dani Cancela was ruled out of the group stage through injury, replacement Shinichi Chan was reliable throughout, as was fellow local full-back Law Tsz-chun on the other flank. Chiangrai were the 2019 Thai League 1 champions but have had an underwhelming season, winning just three of their last 10 games. “The Beetles” are looking to qualify for the ACL knockout rounds for the first time, with coach Emerson Pereira and captain Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul touting their improvement and “desire to face the top teams in Asia”. Star players Getterson and Sivakorn Tiatrakul – who Kitchee coach Chu described pregame as a “fast [Hong Kong veteran] Lam Ka-wai” – were unable to find the killer attacking moves. Kitchee will lock horns with Andres Iniesta’s Vissel Kobe on Tuesday before facing Chiangrai again on April 28. ⚽ GOAL | 🇭🇰 Kitchee SC 1-0 Chiangrai United 🇹🇭 💭 Ruslan Mingazov's dream #ACL debut strike gives Kitchee the lead! 📺 Watch 𝗟𝗜𝗩𝗘 https://t.co/pxq1V1t74m #ACL2022 | #KITvCRU pic.twitter.com/Jzgt4aN7cE — #ACL2022 (@TheAFCCL) April 16, 2022 With an unlikely win over the Thai side in what was their first-ever meeting, Kitchee will be encouraged going into their clash with an off-form Kobe, who have yet to win a J-League game this season and sit second-bottom with the worst goal difference. The group’s fourth team, Shanghai Port, pulled out of the competition last week because of Covid-19 restrictions in their home city. However, Kitchee coach and director of football Chu has said the withdrawal of Shanghai – considered the weakest of the quartet – may be a disadvantage in the quest to collect enough points to qualify . View this post on Instagram A post shared by 傑志足球隊官方Instagram帳戶 (@kitcheeofficial) Chu had added at the prematch press conference on Friday that the extra days’ rest would help recovery – but gaining match fitness threatened to be an issue after the long spell without domestic fixtures. Kitchee finished a city-high second in their group last year, winning three of their six games but missing out on qualification for the Eastern region knockouts. In 2018, they became the first Hong Kong team ever to win an AFC Champions League group game, but no club from the city has ever advanced to the knockout phase. Fellow Hong Kong side Lee Man will contest the AFC Cup East Zone play-off against Athletic 220 of the Mongolian National Premier League in Thailand on Tuesday.