AFC Wrap: Wasteful Mariners fall to AFC Cup defeat as City draw Champions League opener

Terengganu FC v Central Coast Mariners - Highlights | AFC Cup | Group G

The 2023-24 Asian Champions League and AFC Cup group stages commenced this week, and overnight both Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City kicked off their respective campaigns in Asia.

Results: Wednesday, September 20

Melbourne City 0-0 Ventforet Kofu
AFC Asian Champions League
Venue: Melbourne Rectangular Stadium

Terengganu FC 1-0 Central Coast Mariners
Venue: Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium, Terengganu

Mariners create plenty but lack clinical edge in AFC Cup defeat to Terengganu

Central Coast Mariners have kicked off their AFC Cup campaign in defeat, falling to a 1-0 loss to Terengganu FC in Malaysia on Wednesday night.

The Isuzu UTE A-League champions had 23 shots to Terengganu’s 11, putting eight on target to two, but an own goal to young defender Nathan Paull on the cusp of half-time proved the difference in the end as the home side ran out victors to go second in Group G.

The Mariners, meanwhile, sit third above Stallions Laguna FC after their 5-2 loss to Bali United in the other Group G fixture on September 20.

It was a new-look Mariners lineup at Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium, with the reigning A-League Men champions blooding new signings in their starting XI including Alou Kuol, Paull, Will Wilson and Angel Torres.

Brazilian Marco Tulio fired just wide from a bicycle kick in the second minute of the game as the Mariners got on the front foot. Torres was also lively early doors and had two glorious chances to put Central Coast ahead in the first half; the first was saved in a one-on-one, with the second sent over the bar from close range. 

But it was Terengganu who struck first after Paull’s touch on Nurillo Tukhtasinov’s cross in first-half stoppage time diverted the ball into his own net to break the deadlock and hand the advantage to the home side.

Terengganu went close to doubling the advantage on two occasions in the second half; Sony Nordé cut onto his right foot to whip a long-range shot toward the top corner, only for Mariners keeper and captain Danny Vukovic to pull off a stunning full-length fingertip stop, and Habib Haroon cannoned a 75-minute strike off the woodwork that would have put Terengganu out of sight.

Christian Theoharous did his best to ignite a comeback with a shot from outside the box which stung the gloves of Mohd Suhaimi, while a desperate tackle from Shahrul Nizam prevented Torres from angling a shot on target with just over 15 minutes to play. 

Then came chaos in the Mariners box, with Tulio seeing his close-range shot blocked on the goal line, before Dylan Wenzel-Halls snatched at the rebound which Tulio was far better placed to latch onto and finish. A header from Brian Kaltak at the death was nervously cleared over the crossbar as the full-time whistle blew to condemn the Mariners to an opening-night defeat. 

Central Coast will now prepare to face Stallions at home on Wednesday, October 4.

READ MORE: Fans swoon over ‘clutch’ Aussie’s magic, Muscat’s big concern after ‘momentous occasion’

City ‘surprised’ by speed of J2 League side in hard-fought draw

With an Australia Cup semi-final against Sydney FC in just four days, and the start of the 2023-24 A-League Men campaign just one month away, Melbourne City head coach Rado Vidosic says his side’s 0-0 draw against Ventforet Kofu in the ACL on Wednesday night couldn’t have come at a better time.

REACTION: New-look City ‘sloppy and slow’ in Champions League opener as Maclaren calls for patience

The City boss admits the speed of the game took his team by surprise early doors, as Kofu created a number of first-half chances – and perhaps would have led at the break if not for superb goalkeeping from Jamie Young.

But City will be all the better for facing the J2 League side at this stage of pre-season, says Vidosic, as the reigning A-League Men premiers ramp up preparation for the pointy end of the Australia Cup campaign, and the start of the new domestic season.

“I’m thrilled that we had this sort of intensive game at this part of our pre-season,” he told reporters after the 0-0 draw at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.

“The first half it took us a little bit (by) surprise, the speed of (Kofu’s) movement, the speed of the play, the ball speed. I think we were second to everything. But in the second half I think we raised our intensity and we matched them. So I’m very, very pleased with our effort, with the output. And I think the draw at the end was a fair result.”

City captain Jamie Maclaren labelled the performance “sloppy and slow” in patches, but believes the squad – that features a raft of new recruits – needs time to bed in and find their rhythm.

“It’s a new group here, we’ve got 13 or so new payers and we need to gel,” he said. “We’re still in pre-season, they’ve played for 30-odd games in their league, so we can’t be too hard on ourselves.

“A clean sheet is great, but we’re not creating enough. So that’s something we need to work on, and we’ve got a semi-final coming up on Sunday.”

Around the grounds

Have we already seen goal of the tournament?

The Asian Champions League campaign has only just begun, but we may already have our winner of goal of the tournament.

Kitchee SC fell to defeat to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors on Wednesday night – but not before Mikael Severo’s stunning bicycle kick from the tightest of angles.

Aussie head coach’s flying start with Thai champions

Former Newcastle Jets head coach Arthur Papas has overseen a comprehensive 4-1 victory for Buriram United over Zhejiang Professional FC in the Thai champions’ first ACL fixture of the campaign.

The result sent Papas and Buriram top of Group H; the Thai club are in the same group as Melbourne City and Ventforet, and will take on the latter in the second round of fixtures as City prepare to face Zhejiang in China on October 4.

Pick that out!

Jose Kante couldn’t have timed it better: a 94th minute equaliser to earn Urawa Red Diamonds a point against Wuhan Three Towns – and what a goal it was.

The reigning ACL champions were at risk of falling to a stunning first-round loss before Kante’s moment of magic. You can see from the reactions of Wuhan’s defenders just how frustrating the concession of that last-gasp strike was for the Chinese outfit.


Shan United v Macarthur FC
Date: September 21, 2023
Kick-off: 10.00pm (AEST)
Venue: Thuwunna Football Stadium, Yangon
Broadcast: 10Play

Re-live of Wednesday night’s action via KEEPUP’s live blog as the Mariners fell to a 1-0 defeat to Terengganu FC and fellow Isuzu UTE A-League club Melbourne City were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Ventforet Kofu in the Asian Champions League.

Featured image credit: 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC)