Nwoha Onyekachi's second half strike was enough for all three points for in-form Kelantan to clinch top spot in Group F of the AFC CupNwoha Onyekachi scored early in the second half as Kelantan sealed top spot in Group F and sent Ayeyawady United crashing out of the AFC Cup after a 1-0 victory over the Myanmar side on Tuesday.
The Nigerian struck two minutes after the interval when his shot from just inside the box nicked off a defender and looped past goalkeeper Thiha Si Thu.
The home side squandered several opportunities to extend their advantage before the visitors launched a late rally with U Min Min Thu hitting the crossbar and Sithu Than forcing goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat to tip over.
But Ayeyawady were unable to find an equaliser which would have sent them through the Round of 16 as group runners-up. They finished level on seven points with Arema Indonesia and Vietnam’s Navibank Saigon although it was the Indonesian side that progressed to the knockout rounds on the basis of head-to-head results between the three teams.
Despite securing first place and a possible clash with Malaysian east coast rivals Terengganu in the last 16, Kelantan coach Bojan Hodak was unhappy with his side’s wastefulness in front of goal.
“Both teams did not play well but we were lucky to score in the second half,” said the Croatian. “We really should have scored more goals but our players were not focussed. They tried to play too much as individuals and to score themselves.
“I am satisfied with the three points but not the score of the game. We got the result that we needed, we are top of the group and we host a match in the next round.”
With Arema thrashing Navibank 6-2 earlier in the day, Kelantan went into their game safe in the knowledge that they were through to the last 16 whatever their result against Ayeyawady.
But they were the better side throughout the game and they had the best chance of the first half in the 20th minute when a free-kick by Indra Putra Mahayuddin came back off the right post.
The score remained deadlocked at half-time but Kelantan stormed ahead just two minutes after the break. Myo Zaw Oo attempted to clear the ball but it deflected off Mohamed Ghaddar into the path of Onyekachi, whose attempt took another deflection off a defender before it looped agonisingly past Thiha.
Ayeyawady could have levelled the score shortly afterwards when a weak clearance fell to Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit on the left flank. His shot from 20 metres was parried by Khairul Fahmi, who then recovered quickly to palm the ball away as a lurking Yves Jupite Ngangue attempted to force the ball home.
Ghaddar should have extended Kelantan’s advantage in the 56th minute when he surged clear of the Ayeyawady defence after a neat pass by Onyekachi but slid his shot wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Zairul Fitree Ishak hit the left post with a stinging shot from 20 metres and Thiha did well to stop an effort by Indra Putra as the hosts piled on the pressure. But the Ayeyawady goalkeeper was fortunate when he fumbled a shot by Zairul Fitree but saw the ball roll just wide of his post.
Ayeyawady looked a spent force but they nearly got an unlikely equaliser in the 87th minute when U Min Min Thu’s casual effort from distance nearly caught out Khairul Fahmi, who could only watch as the ball came back off the crossbar.
Nanda then shot over from just outside the box before an effort from similar distance by Sithu had to be tipped over by the Kelantan keeper.
It was ultimately a case of so near, yet so far for the Myanmar side, who narrowly missed out on the knockout rounds on their debut in the AFC Cup.
“I’m upset that we lost because we only needed a draw to qualify,” said coach Jozek Herel.
“We put in more effort towards the end of the second half but we just couldn’t score. Now we have to focus on our local league and try to qualify for the AFC Cup again next year.