GEORGE TOWN: Kelantan are still in the running for a top-two finish in Group G of the AFC Cup despite being crushed 4-0 by Vietnam’s Ninh Binh.
With the comfortable win in front of their home fans at the Ninh Binh Stadium in Hanoi on Wednesday night, the Vietnamese are through to the last 16 after collecting a maximum 12 points from four matches. It was also Ninh Binh’s second win over Kelantan, having won 3-2 in Kota Baru.
The Red Warriors have Hong Kong’s South China to thank for throwing the Malaysians a lifeline by defeating second-placed Yangon United of Myanmar 5-3 at the Mongkok Stadium. It was South China’s first win after losing to all the other three teams in the group’s first-round fixtures.
With two rounds of matches remaining, it is now a three-way battle for Yangon (six points), Kelantan and South China (both on three points) to accompany Ninh Binh into the last 16.
Kelantan coach Steve Darby took only 15 players to Hanoi due to injuries and suspensions. Among the notable absentees were skipper Mohd Badhri Radzi, midfielders Amar Rohidan and Ahmad Fakri Saarani and suspended strikers Shakir Ali and Khairul Izuan.
Despite going behind to a Voinea Petrisor goal after just 11 minutes, the Red Warriors did well to limit the marauding home side to just a one-goal lead at half-time.
But the Kelantan side crumbled under pressure in the second half. Phan Anh Tuan made it 2-0 seven minutes after the restart before Le Van Thang (76th) and Bryan Elroy (80th) handed Ninh Binh a comfortable victory.
It was Kelantan’s third defeat in four matches. But they can still make it to the next round if they beat Yangon (home, April 8) and South China (away, April 22) and hope for other results to go their way.