|On the mark: Pham Van Quy of Ninh Binh celebrates after scoring for the host team during their AFC Cup match against South China on Tuesday. Ninh Binh topped Group G and bagged a berth in the knockout phase. — VNS Photo Tuan Tu
HA NOI (VNS)— Ninh Binh made their own history after winning a berth in the AFC Cup last 16 during their international debut on Tuesday, playing on their home turf.
The hosts emerged as Group G winners after they shared a 1-1 draw with Hong Kong's South China during the fifth match.
Sasa Kajkut had given the visitors the lead at 32 minutes, but with four minutes of the match remaining, defender Pham Van Quy leveled the score.
Though Ninh Binh lost their winning record in the tournament, Quy's vital equaliser gave coach Nguyen Van Sy's side the point they needed to win the group, with a game to spare.
South China, meanwhile, missed placing in the knockout stage after Myanmar's Yangon United defeated Kelantan of Malaysia 3-2 in the group's later fixture, to secure second place and the last ticket.
"We have ensured first place in the group with still one more game remaining, so I will be a lot more relaxed in the coming days and be able to focus on the upcoming V-League fixtures," said Sy.
"Some of our players did not play well today, because their physical condition was not good – just maybe 60 or 70 percent. South China played well today and showed a good spirit, and fortunately we scored a goal at the end."
Feeling pleased with the draw, Sy still expressed his concern about defender Chu Ngoc Anh's injury, which he suffered in the second half.
Despite beginning the match at the bottom of the group standings, the visitors showed no fear against the undefeated leaders and had their first scoring opportunity as early as the fourth minute, though striker Chan Siu Ki was unable to convert the chance.
South China continued to press, while dictating play, and it was no surprise when they took the lead just after the half-hour mark.
A swift counter-attack cut open their host's defence, and Bosnian striker Kajkut was on hand to slam the ball past goalkeeper Nguyen Van Hung.
The game began to slow, with South China looking as if it would return to Hong Kong with a much-needed three points, until the 86th minute when Quy stole in and levelled the tie to finally break South China's resistance.
"I am very satisfied with my players today. They showed me a good performance and superior motivation to score a second victory in this tournament, despite playing away from home and against a very strong team," South China coach Yeung Ching Kwong was quoted as saying on the-afc.com.
"I'd like to say congratulations to Ninh Binh, as they've progressed to the next round as group winners, and I hope they go far in the competition."
In the next round, Ninh Binh will play Yangon United at the Youth Training Centre in Yangon on April 22. — VNS
T&T enter AFC Cup's last 16
HA NOI — Vietnamese champions Ha Noi T&T beat Maziya Sport&Recreation of the Maldives 2-1 yesterday to qualify for the knockout stages of the AFC Cup with one match to spare.
It was the visitors fourth win in four games in Group F.
The loss means that Maziya Sports&Recreation have no chance of moving on, with just one point from a possible 12.
In their final group game, T&T will play Arema Indonesia at home. They need at least one point to finish top of the group and earn the right to play at home in the last 16. — VNS