Home United closer to 2017 AFC Cup after scoring four in Cambodia
Home United have one foot in the 2017 AFC Cup after scoring four times away from home in a 4-3 win over Phnom Penh Crown in the first leg of their qualifying playoff on Monday night.
In a thriller at the RSN Stadium in Cambodia, the S.League outfit looked to be cruising to victory after a Faris Ramli double put them in control of proceedings, only for Futa Nakamura to pull one back for Phnom Penh Crown.
An own-goal by Chiharu Kosuge restored the Protectors' two-goal cushion, but they were again pegged back through a Keo Sokngon screamer.
Any hopes the hosts had of overturning the deficit were effectively handed when Izzdin Shafiq made it 4-2 to Home. But a fine free kick by Shane Booysen reduced the deficit to a solitary goal ahead of next Tuesday's return encounter in Singapore.
So Home could be forgiven for feeling they should have put the tie beyond doubt, considering how strong a position they had found themselves in the first leg.
Despite being the visiting side, they showed plenty of initiative from the opening whistle.
It was Phnom Penh Crown who had the first real chance to break the deadlock. Nakamura was denied by the woodwork, before Home responded with a Stipe Plazibat header that was brilliantly kept out by Keo Soksela from point-blank range.
But it did not take long for the Protectors to open the scoring when Faris was brought down inside the box by Suon Noeut four minutes after the half-hour mark. The Singapore international winger calmly picking himself up and converting from 12 yards.
Just a minute later, Faris was on target again when he broke free after playing a neat one-two with Plazibat, and finished past Soksela.
The hosts gave themselves a lifeline right before the break when Nakamura pulled one back, meeting Booysen's left-wing cross, and sending a header past Hassan Sunny.
Their spirited response was, however, undone in the 70th minute when Kosuge scored a comical own-goal. He completely missed his attempted clearance and deflected the ball into this own net with his standing foot after his goalkeeper had denied Plazibat in a one-on-one situation.
To Phnom Penh Crown's credit, they refused to give in and reduced the arrears in the 84th minute. Sokngon was left in acres of space 20 yards out, and proceeded to send a stunner into the top corner.
Two minutes later, it did appear that Home had wrapped up the win when Izzdin popped up to net their fourth of the evening.
Nonetheless, in the fourth minute of injury time, Booysen sent a terrific free kick into the back of the net to ensure there will be plenty to play for when they meet again at Jalan Besar Stadium for the return encounter on Feb. 7.
Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.