CAPTAIN FANTASTIC PAULO FIRES KL THROUGH TO AFC CUP KNOCKOUTS
– KL finish second in Group H qualify for Asean zone semi-finals as best runners-up
– KL to meet Viettel of Vietnam in Hanoi on Aug 10
– Josue scores two early goals to set KL on the way
– First win in Asian club football since 1994, ending a four-match winless run
– Josue is leading KL goalscorer in 2022 in all competitions with 7 goals
Paulo Josue became the star of the night as the captain blasted Kuala Lumpur into the knockout stage of the AFC Cup with a double in a 2-1 win over Singapore’s Tampines Rovers in Cheras on Thursday.
The victory was not enough to dislodge PSM Makassar from the top of Group H, with both teams finishing on four points, due to a slightly inferior goal difference but it was enough for the Malaysia Cup champions to advance as the best group runners-up.
Kuala Lumpur will travel to Hanoi on August 10 to face Group I winners Viettel of Vietnam in the Asean zone semi-finals.
It was thanks to Viettel’s 5-2 win over Hougang United of Singapore, which ended just before 8pm, that Kuala Lumpur knew a win by any score against Tampines would be enough to get through.
A three-goal win was needed for Kuala Lumpur to finish top of the group with Makassar now set to host Kedah in the other semi-final on August 9.
Josue’s second goal was the 50th scored by Kuala Lumpur in Asian club competitions and took his tally for the club to 45 goals, only six behind Subadron Aziz who is No 4 on Kuala Lumpur’s all-time goalscorers list.
The win ended a run of four matches without a win in Asian club football, stretching back to the second round, first leg of the 1994 Asian Cup Winners’ Cup when beating Indonesia’s Glora Dewata 2-1 at the Merdeka Stadium.
Kuala Lumpur coach Bojan Hodak made three changes to the side which drew 0-0 with Makassar on June 24 with the most significant being the omission of Kevin Koubemba.
Hadin Azman filled in on the left-flank in Koubemba’s absence, which also allowed goalkeeper Kevin Mendoza to play instead of Azri Ghani due to the four-import player rule. Ryan Lambert was the other change with his brother Declan dropping to the bench as Irfan Zakaria slotted into a left-back role.
Tampines also made three changes from their 3-1 defeat to Makassar as they looked for an unlikely four-goal victory that would take them through as the best group runners-up.
With Kuala Lumpur looking for an early goal, it was no surprise that they were the early aggressors.
Twice Hadin made runs down the left to the byline before squaring but there were no takers while Zhafri Yaya was similarly effective on the right setting up chances for Romel Morales and Josue which were both blocked through desperate defending.
But the opening goal arrived not long after in the 16th minute when Akram Mahinan cut off a pass in the middle of the park and played through to Josue, who dummied one Tampines defender before firing through the legs of another and past goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.
After seeing Syazwan tip his free-kick over, Josue doubled the lead in the 21st minute with a brilliant goal – chesting a looping ball by Irfan before hitting a left-foot first-time shot low past Syazwan from the top of the box for his seventh goal in all competitions this season.
Kuala Lumpur appeared to ease off while sitting on a 2-0 lead and were punished in the 38th minute when Boris Kopitovic escaped the attention of Kenny Pallraj and headed in Andrew Aw’s cross from the right to reduce the deficit to 2-1.
A third goal would still take Kuala Lumpur to the top of Group H and it nearly arrived in the 41st minute when a header by Morales from Josue’s corner came off the crossbar.
Hodak sent in left-back Declan Lambert for Kenny at half-time as Irfan slotted alongside Giancarlo Gallifuoco to utilise his pace against Kopitovic.
Just two minutes in, Morales was away after being played through by Ryan Lambert but shot straight at the goalkeeper as another chance went begging.
Over the next 15 minutes, Josue, Hadin and Zhafri all had potshots at goal which was either deflected or went straight to the goalkeeper before Josue almost took advantage of a poor back-pass but his first touch took him too wide.
The captain fired wide from a Gallifuoco knockdown as Kuala Lumpur continued to chase the third goal before Tampines gave the home side a couple of scares in the closing minutes with Kevin Mendoza coming to the rescue.
In the 90th minute, substitute Fakrul Aiman Sidid spurned a great chance to get the third goal when he was blocked on the line by Irwan Shah Arisismail trying to get to Gallifuoco’s header across the six-yard box.
With Fakrul injured in the process, that was the cue for Hodak to send in another defender, Muhammad Mohd Fauzi, to preserve the one-goal lead and a spot in the next round.
Kuala Lumpur City v Tampines Rovers: 1 Mendoza (GK), 4 Kamal Azizi, 9 Gallifuoco, 21 Kenny (12 Declan 46′), 17 Irfan, 14 Akram, 6 Ryan (29 Arif Shaqirin 89′), 8 Zhafri, 27 Hadin (30 Fakrul Aiman 83′)(33 Muhammad 90’+3), 28 Paulo Josue (C), 7 Morales
Subs Not Used: 20 Azim Al Amin (GK), 44 Azri (GK), 10 Safee, 25 Anwar, 37 Haqimi Azim, 88 Ridhwan
Referees: Masoud Tufaylieh (Syria); Assistant 1: Rami Taan (Syria); Assistant 2: Arman Assadi (Iran); Fourth official: Seyed Vahid Kazemi (Iran)
OUR HERO OF THE MATCH: PAULO JOSUE
“I’m quite happy to help the team with the goals. It is my job to be there in the box and score from the crosses. Today was my time to score, normally Romel would score for us.
“It means a lot to qualify, both for KL and Malaysia. We need to improve because we miss a lot of chances.”