Buriram United come from behind to win Mekong Club Championship
Buriram United striker Diogo Luis Santo put in a match-winning performance as the Thai side beat Laos champions Lanexang United 2-0 to claim the Toyota Mekong Club Championship 2-1 on aggregate.
In the second leg of the final in Thailand on Sunday night, the Brazilian tormented his opponents throughout. He won and scored a first-half penalty before Go Seul-ki added a second early in the second half.
Diogo then drew the foul that saw Lanexang skipper Soukaphone Vongchiengkham sent off late in the game.
Lanexang had upset the former Thai champions with a 1-0 victory in Vientiane in Wednesday's first leg and Ranko Popovic's team selection suggested that the hosts were determined to put that behind them and lift the trophy.
The home side threatened first in the seventh minute. After good work from Diogo and Chitipat Thanklang, Go cut the ball back for Diogo but the Brazilian's rising strike was just wide.
While Buriram had started with a sense of purpose, Lanexang quickly showed they were up for a battle by putting in some strong challenges. One of them resulted in a yellow card for Australian defender Aaron Evans.
New signing Rogerinho was next to try his luck three minutes later. He picked up the ball on the edge of the area and skipped past a challenge to make room for a shot, but his angled drive flew well wide.
Diogo was being targeted for some tough treatment, and Lanexang captain Soukaphone was next to go into the book for hacking down the Buriram striker.
The visitors finally made a foray forward in the 23rd minute, but Manalom Phomsouvanh's tame long-range effort was easily held by Siwarak Tedsungnoen.
The home side were dominating possession, but finding it difficult to create clear-cut chances. Some determined defending from the Laotian side saw several efforts blocked.
Vilayout Sayyabounsou had barely been on the pitch as a substitute for Manalom when he became the third Lanexang played to be yellow-carded -- this time for a crude lunge on Go.
Buriram finally took the lead in the 38th minute, but it came in controversial circumstances. Go played an excellent through ball to Diogo, who was clean through and tried to round Soukthavy Soundala in the visitors' goal. However, the striker appeared to over-hit the ball before going down.
The referee pointed to the spot and the Lanexang players furiously claimed Diogo had dived. The Brazilian was unperturbed, and fired home the penalty to level the final on aggregate.
Just before half-time, Kosuke Yamasaki was booked as Diogo was one the end of yet another foul. And Buriram almost added a second before break when Diogo's low shot took a couple of ricochets, but Soukthavy was alert and caught the ball.
Six minutes into the second half, Buriram took the lead on the night and on aggregate. Go picked up the ball at the edge of the area, but his low shot should have resulted in a comfortable save. Instead, Soukthavy let the ball squirm from his grasp and sneak over the line.
Two minutes later, the hosts almost added a third when Narubadin Weerawatnodom charged down the right. He fired a powerful shot across the keeper but it crashed back off the post.
As Buriram piled on the pressure, Diogo waltzed through the Lanexang defence, but Soukthavy made a brave diving save at his feet.
Then the home side were reminded that it wasn't game over when Khampeng Sayavutthi -- who scored the winner in the first leg -- was centimetres away from connecting with a cross from the right yards from the Buriram goal.
The hosts then picked up their first booking of the night when Jakkaphan Kaewprom pulled back the speedy Soukaphone as he broke forward.
Substitute Supachok Sarachat tried to add a third for Buriram when he ran forward and cut in from the left, but his final effort lacked power and was held by Soukthavy. The keeper then had to look smart to punch clear a Rogerinho strike before Go flashed a header just wide.
Lanexang again reminded the hosts of their threat and really should have scored after 70 minutes. Following great work from Ludovic Saypraseuth down the right, the ball was cut back to Soukaphone, but the skipper fired over the bar from 10 yards.
Buriram missed a great chance of their own minutes later. An excellent exchange between Rogerinho and Diogo left the former with the task of side footing home, but he placed the ball wide.
Another chance was squandered when Go shot over from Diogo's cut-back.
But Lanexang's task got near impossible in the 79th minute when their skipper and biggest threat Soukaphone was sent off. He had already been given a final warning, and when he hacked down Diogo once again, the referee issued a second yellow card.
Buriram then saw out the game comfortably to retain the trophy and start the year on a high.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK