06.07.2021 19:00 h

Cerezo on verge of last 16 with 5-0 rout

Taishi Matsumoto and Mutsuki Kato scored a brace each as Cerezo Osaka thrashed Guangzhou FC 5-0 to put themselves in a great position to qualify for the Asian Champions League last 16 as Group J winners on Tuesday.

Cerezo Osaka retained only one player - Ryuya Nishio - from the starting line-up that featured in their 3-0 win over Port FC on Saturday but still packed enough firepower to dominate their Chinese rivals in Buriram.

Guangzhou, the 2015 titleholders, were missing almost all their star players including many who feature regularly in the Chinese national team.

They were excluded from the club squad after their participation in the World Cup qualifiers in May because of the country's strict coronavirus protocols.

The Guangzhou youngsters once again failed to cope with the opposition with Cerezo making a mockery of their defence with repeated forays into their territory.

Only some wayward finishing prevented the Japanese from striking early with Riki Matsuda and Hiroto Yamada among those missing out in the first 25 minutes of action.

But Guangzhou's luck ran out in the 33rd minute as Matsuda sent in a spectacular cross from wide on the right and Kato smashed it past goalkeeper Zhang Jianzhi with an equally beautiful volley.

Matsumoto made it 2-0 for Cerezo eight minutes after the break off an assist from Yuta Koike and Tiago Pagnussat added a third in the 67th minute with a header following a corner.

Matsumoto struck for the second time in the 72nd minute after Matsuda's pass had split open the Guangzhou defence, and Kato too added to his tally with another goal in stoppage time as Cerezo completed the rout to take their tally to 13 points from five matches.

Also in the same group, Hong Kong's Kitchee FC were held to a 1-1 draw by Port FC of Thailand.

Pakorn Prempakdee put the Thai debutants ahead in Buriram in the 13th minute, sending his free-kick from the edge of the box through the Kitchee 'wall' and beating goalkeeper Paul Cesar whose desperate dive to save the goal went in vain.

But Port FC could not hold on to their advantage for long as Kitchee struck through Matt Orr who directed his header off a corner past goalkeeper Watchara Buathong as the match petered out to a draw.

The result took Kitchee to 10 points guaranteeing them a second-place finish with one match remaining.

Only the group winners and the three best second-placed teams advance to the round of 16 from the five groups in Asia's eastern half.

Matches in the west were completed in April with eight teams advancing to the next phase.