Andrew Barisic was the villain for nine-man Tampines Rovers again as he inspired South China to a 2-1 extra-time win at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Sunday’s AFC Champions League first round qualifier.
The Australian fired the Hong Kong First Division champions ahead in the 20th minute with a close-range finish, but after the hosts had Imran Sahib sent off, they responded by equalising four minutes after the hour mark when Miljan Mrdakovic turned home a Shaiful Esah cross.
The game then went into extra-time, where another neat finish from Barisic helped South China regain the lead in the 103rd minute, before the Stags’ hopes of mounting a comeback were all but ended when Mrdakovic was also sent off seven minutes from time.
The defeat means Tampines will have play in the AFC Cup once more this season, and it was in the same competition last year where a brace from Barisic, while he was at East Bengal, condemned the S.League side to a 4-2 defeat – ultimately a decisive blow to their hopes of making the knockout round.
On Sunday, it took him just eight minutes to threaten the opposition goal when he met Leung Chun Pong’s right-wing cross with a glancing header that sailed just wide of the far post.
Although South China were controlling proceedings early on, the hosts did look dangerous from set-pieces; Aleksandar Duric and Kunihiro Yamashita both calling Yapp Hung Fai into action with firm headers.
But in the 20th minute, the Hong Kong outfit grabbed a deserving lead when an incisive pass by Lee Wai Lim released Sasa Kajkut, whose first-time cross was emphatically stabbed home by Barisic from four yards.
Barisic had another opening six minutes later when he sent a difficult header over after being picked out by Chan Siu Ki’s left-wing delivery, before Tampines came close to pulling level in the 31st minute; Norihiro Kawakami beating Yapp with a bullet header but Kwok Kin Pong was on hand to clear at the far post.
However, the equation became more complicated for the reigning S.League champions three minutes later when Imran Sahib was shown his second yellow after catching Kwok with a high boot, leaving his side to play just under an hour a man down.
Yet the Stags could have equalised just before the break when Mrdakovic reacted quickest to Fahrudin Mustafic’s deflected pass and looked set to race through, but Yapp did well to race off his line and halt the threat.
Still, South China remained in control after halftime but were unable to make the most of both their possession and chances, with Kajkut and Kwok sending fierce efforts from good positions narrowly off target.
And in the 64th minute, the Stags hit back when substitute Luis Closa spread the play out wide to Shaiful, who whipped in a fierce cross that was turned home by Mrdakovic from just outside the six-yard box.
However, the numerical deficit began to really show as the game entered its closing stages as the Tampines goal began to come under siege yet Hyrulnizam Juma’at was proving near impossible to beat.
Barisic looked destined to net in the 75th minute when his shot took a wicked deflection and was creeping towards the bottom corner, before the Stags custodian produced a fine reaction save to tip it wide.
Five minutes later, Chan sent a blistering drive towards goal after the ball was played into his path by Kajkut, only for Hyrulnizam to make another smart stop.
With the scores tied at the final whistle, the game then went into extra-time and Barisic continued to look the likeliest source of a South China goal.
In the 101st minute, he finally managed to beat Hyrulnizam after pouncing on Mustafic’s clearance header and sending a spectacular bicycle towards goal, only to see it come back off the post.
Nonetheless, he finally struck his second of the evening two minutes later when he created space for himself to meet Kajkut’s cut-back, and clinically swept a first-time effort into the bottom corner.
Almost immediately, Mrdakovic had a chance to fire Tampines level when Closa’s freekick was nodded down by Yamashita into his path, but he failed to connect cleanly and poked wide from six yards out.
South China continued to carve out openings in the attacking third as extra-time wore on but Hyrulnizam was singlehandedly keeping his side in the game; making excellent saves to deny Michael Luk, Lee Hong Lim and Kajkut.
But in the 113th minute, the Stags’ brave challenge was finally ended when Mrdakovic was also sent off after being shown his second yellow for dissent; the Serb angrily remonstrating with referee Iida Jumpei after he turned down a penalty appeal from Duric.
South China had opportunites to kill off the contest with a third but Chu could only fire into the post from 12 yards out, before Hyrulnizam did brilliantly to claw Lee Hong Lim’s effort in a one-on-one situation, although the Hong Kong side had done enough by then for the win to set up a second-round qualifier against Thailand’s Chonburi.
Tampines Rovers: Hyrulnizam Juma’at, Anaz Hadee (Jamil Ali 55’), Kunihiro Yamashita, Norihiro Kawakami, Shaiful Esah, Fahrudin Mustafic, Imran Sahib, Ismadi Mukhtar (Luis Closa 55’), Shahdan Sulaiman (Ang Zhiwei 112’), Miljan Mrdakovic, Aleksandar Duric.
South China: Yapp Hung Fai, Chak Ting Fung (Jack Sealy 90’), Chan Wai Ho, Lee Chi Ho, Kwok Kin Pong, Lee Wai Lim (Lee Hong Lim 59’), Ticao, Leung Chun Pong (Michael Luk 103’), Chan Siu Ki, Sasa Kajkut, Andrew Barisic.