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A late comeback by Buriram United on Tuesday evening was enough to keep alive aspirations for achieving a top-two finish in Group G of the Asian Champions League (ACL).

Outbound air travel difficulties in the lead up, and then hot and humid conditions in Buriram, were significant factors in Guangzhou Evergrande being held to a 1-1 draw at the Thunder Castle stadium.

The charter flight for the Guangzhou squad and officials from their home city direct into Buriram was forced to divert due to an emergency closure of the local airport on Monday.

Conflicting reports suggested they were then either transported by coach from the nearby region of Roi Et or from Bangkok on a commercial domestic Nok Air flight in the same evening.

My own travel was from a base in Bangkok early on match day, with the full Air Asia flight including a large contingent of Guangzhou supporters.

Two-time ACL champions Guangzhou dominated throughout the first half. A fortunate deflection from a strike by Zheng Long in the 20th minute was enough to establish the lead in front of the 10,523 crowd, which included more than 500 highly vocal travelling away fans with colourful flag and banners who had converged on Buriram including by a convoy of buses from Bangkok.

Coach Fabio Cannavaro’s side threatened to extend their lead, with Buriram goalkeeper Sivarak Tedsungnoen pulling off several fine saves to keep the hosts in the contest.

In the second half with more possession and intensity, the 'Thunder Castles' gradually clawed their way back. However, it took a dramatic strike by imported Korean midfielder Yoo Junsoo to score the precious equaliser sending the home fans into raptures.

At the post-game media conferences, I asked the former Italian footballer legend and now coach Fabio Cannavaro about the influence of the testing conditions no his team's failure to finish the game in the second half.

“Obviously the weather was not good for our team, especially in the second half. We always choose to be the high possession team, and in such conditions, we really lost and did not keep our possession,” said Cannavaro.

Meanwhile, a somewhat relieved home side coach, Montenegrin Bozidar Bandovic, acknowledged that a lack of depth in his squad limited the opportunities to rest key players before the last game in Group G. However, he has adjusted training regimes to help keep players fit and fresh as possible in a busy domestic and international competitions schedule. He said there are also advantages from the same line-ups playing together week in and week out.

The draw leaves Buriram in third position in their group, two points behind Cerezo Osaka in second place. Buriram travel to Korea for the final group game on 17 April to play last-placed Jeju United and who cannot qualify for the knockout stages. 

If Cerezo Osaka lose to Guangzhou Evergrande in China, and if Buriram win v Jeju United, Buriram will qualify for the knockout stages. Even if Guangzhou lose, the Cantonese side will advance unless they suffer an unlikely heavy defeat at home - and Buriram wins by enough of a margin to shift the goal difference in their favour.

Should the scenarios above work in favour of Buriram, my hope is to return to the Thunder Castle on 8 or 15 May for a home leg in the round of 16.

For a full match report from the local Buriram paper, see here

Acknowledgement:  A big thank you (kob khun krab) to Aom (Nattha) in the Buriram United media centre for her professional assistance.

Categories: News | Asia

asian champions league, #acl2018, #buriramunited, #guangzhouevergrande

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