Kelantan once again departed the AFC Cup in the group stages, as they were made to pay for more poor defending
BY MARK DAWSON
Knowing that nothing but a win would do if they were to mount an unlikely escape from Group G in their final two games, it was expected that the Red Warriors would attack from the opening whistle. However the sparse number of home fans instead witnessed a lackluster showing in the opening 30 minutes, where the visitors of Yangon frequently created the greater chances.
So often Emerson Reis Luiz and Cezar Augusto combined with menace to torment the Kelantan defence throughout the game. Therefore it was no surprise that these two players linked for the games first opportunity, with Emerson releasing Cezar down the left-hand side, however his ball across goal fell just behind Kyaw Ko Ko who was unable to make the contact which would have resulted in a goal.
Yangon were frequently finding success attacking on the flanks and on 20 minutes they found space on the right, with David Htan releasing Kyaw, but Emerson slipped just as his teammates cutback was about to reach him. Moments after this and Emerson almost atoned for his slip with a delightful ball over the top for Cezar, but Fahmi was alert to race off his line and clear the danger.
The home side, offering little as an attacking threat, had a further blow on 23 minutes as Ghaddar was forced off through injury. Insult was added to injury two minutes later as the visitors took a deserved lead. Kelantan were architects of their own downfall, firstly by not challenging for two aerial balls in the build up, and then with some poor defending as Yangon attacked. It was Kyaw Ko Ko who played the through ball for the goal, with Obinna needlessly diving in on him when staying on his feet would have been the better option, and Nik Shahrul playing Cezar onside. The Brazilian forward did the rest, finishing low past Khairul Fahmi.
The Red Warriors did not have their first effort on goal until 34 minutes, when Zairul Fitree hit a rasping half-volley from the edge of the area which had Pyae Phyoo Oo scrambling across his goal. However soon after this and their talisman Francis Forkey Doe began to show signs of life, first shooting over from inside the area on 35 minutes, and then teeing up Tengku Hasbullah four minutes later, who had his goal bound effort blocked by some desperate last ditch defending.
Kelantan came out at the start of the second half looking like a team who had received a rollicking from their manager during the interval, as they attacked with renewed vigor. Barely a minute in and Wan Zahararulnizam worked his way into the Yangon area before drawing a fine parried save from Pyae. On 49 minutes and the game was turned on its head as Kelantan remarkably drew level. This time it was substitute Khairul Izuan who pounced on a poor header by Emerson to launch a stinging strike from 30 yards which beat Pyae all ends up.
Five minutes later and the home side completed an unlikely turnaround, thanks to a trademark Zahararulnizam dribble and finish. Once again he attacked down the left wing, bamboozling Aung Zaw and Aleksandar Vasilev before working the ball onto his left foot and firing high into the roof of the net.
Just as it seemed that the Red Warriors would slow the pace of the game down and control things, they again contrived to throw away the lead in an AFC Cup match. Once again it was Nik Shahrul who should have done better in defence as he was skinned by Kyaw on the byline with the forwards cut-back bundled home by Emerson.
With both teams sensing blood the game turned into an unpredictable end to end contest that could have gone either way. Yangon's Cezar should have had his second of the night on 73 minutes as he was put clean through on goal, but he slashed wide with the goal at his mercy. While three minutes after this Badri Radzi thought he had given Kelantan the lead, but Pyae Phyoo Oo managed to push his smart half-volley onto the post.
Kelantan's kamikaze defending would prove to haunt them again 10 minutes before time as a 2-1 lead was turned into a 3-2 deficit. Once again Cezar found space in-behind a flat defence, and although Fahmi did well to keep out his low shot, Kyaw Ko Ko made no mistake with the follow up, skillfully volleying home with ease.
With the third goal the fight was seemingly knocked out of Kelantan who failed to create any real chances in the final stages, tamely going out of the competition in the group stage once again.