Doha (AFP) – Cerezo Osaka and Kitchee both won in the Asian Champions League on Saturday to stay locked in a battle for first place in Group J.
While Japanese top-flight side Cerezo Osaka rebounded from their surprise 1-1 draw with Thais Port FC last week to win the return match 3-0, Kitchee of Hong Kong beat basement side Guangzhou 1-0, with talismanic veteran Dejan Damjanovic once again the hero.
The results mean Cerezo keep their lead at the top of the table with 10 points from four matches, while Kitchee are snapping at their heels on nine.
The winners of the five groups and the three best runners-up advance to the last 16. There are two rounds left and Cerezo and Kitchee meet on the last day of Group J play on Friday.
Cerezo’s Brazilian coach Levir Culpi rested Hiroshi Kiyotake, Tiago Pagnussat and Riki Harakawa in the first game against Port, but played them on Saturday.
The move paid off as Cerezo dominated at the Chang Arena in Buriram, Thailand.
The Japanese club took only 12 minutes to snatch the lead when Kiyotake’s pin-point cross from the right caught the Port defence napping and Yosuke Maruhashi chested down the ball near the six-yard box and smashed it past goalkeeper Watchara Buathong.
Port threatened only occasionally and fell behind at the stroke of half-time. Yoshito Okubo fired home from close range on the rebound after Watchara had blocked his first effort from a corner taken by Hirakawa.
Cerezo killed off any Port hopes two minutes after the break as Tatsuhiro Sakamoto struck from the edge of the box on an assist by Riku Matsuda.
Goalkeeper Watchara brought off a string of saves to limit the margin of defeat but with four points from as many matches Port have little hope of gaining a knockout berth.
In the second game, the Damjanovic legend continued to grow as he scored for the fourth straight match to help Hong Kong’s Kitchee register their third victory.
The Montenegrin, who became the all-time highest scorer in the tournament last week, struck his 40th goal of the tournament on Saturday, a few days shy of his 40th birthday.
Damjanovic, who had a missed a couple of chances earlier in the match, finally struck from the penalty spot in the 70th minute after Zhang Zili handled the ball and the referee awarded Kitchee a penalty.
He could have added one more to his enormous tally of goals a few minutes before close, but his shot narrowly missed the mark as Kitchee inched closer to a spot in the last 16.