Johor Darul Ta'zim and Ratchaburi Mitr Phol concluded their AFC Champions League 2021 journey with an uninspiring goalless draw at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok on Wednesday, in a match that summed up both side's campaigns in Asia.
JDT needed a win against their ASEAN neighbours to improve their best-ever haul of four points from 2019, while Ratchaburi went into the game hoping to at least open their scoring account in Asia before bowing out of their debut campaign.
Benjamin Mora made eight changes to the JDT side that lost 2-1 to Nagoya Grampus in the previous game, while actor-singer Phakin 'Tono' Khamwilaisak, who sensationally signed for Ratchaburi last month with no prior professional experience, made an appearance on the Thai side's bench.
The Malaysian Super League champions hogged plenty of possession but created little in the way of chances. The Dragons, meanwhile, were largely on the backfoot, but Steeven Langil was lively during their rare charges forward though failing to trouble Farizal Marlias in the JDT goal.
In the end, the night ended in disappointment for both the Southeast Asian outfits. While JDT could only match their 2019 points tally with the draw, Ratchaburi went home without bulging the net even once despite conceding ten in six group games.
Still, it could be the Thais who signed off the happier of the two sides as they ended ACL 2021 with consecutive clean sheets against Pohang Steelers and Johor, hoping 2021 will serve as a learning experience for when they next return to the competition.
Cerezo second team through after Nagoya held by Pohang
Meanwhile, three-time Asian champions Pohang will have to wait a little longer to find out whether they will continue their run in the competition after ending their group stage campaign with a 1-1 draw against group winners Nagoya.
Naoki Maeda put a much-changed Nagoya side ahead in the 51st minute, but Borys Tashchy equalised with two minutes left to play to deny Grampus becoming only the fifth side in the competition's history to win all six matches in the group stage of the Champions League.
The result also meant that Group J toppers Cerezo Osaka qualified for the knockout stages as their tally of 13 points will be good enough to go through at least as one of the three best-placed runners-up, even if they are beaten by Kitchee on the final matchday.
Second-placed Kitchee trail Cerezo by three points in that group and will need a big win on Friday to claim top spot with an improved goal difference. Port, who are third with five points, and Guangzhou, who are yet to open their account, are already eliminated.
Chiangrai United's knockout hopes ended as Jeonbuk progress
Following Gamba Osaka's 8-1 thrashing of Tampines Rovers in the early kickoff, Chiangrai United knew that they had the daunting task of defeating South Korean champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors if they were to stay in the hunt for a place in the last-16.
But Modou Barrow quickly dispelled that hope by scoring in the ninth minute before Hong Jeong-ho's free-kick found its way into the goal with help from Chiangrai goalkeeper Apirak Worawong to make it 2-0 in favour of Jeonbuk.
The K League 1 side increased the lead to 3-0 by the 35th minute through Park Jin-seong as the game got away from the 2019 Thai League champions even before half time. Bill reduced the deficit from the penalty spot in the 68th minute, but it turned out to be a mere consolation for the Beetles.
Chiangrai did put on a decent showing in their second ACL campaign as they went toe-to-toe with J1 League side Gamba in both meetings, but their inability to match up to the quality of Jeonbuk cost them dearly in their efforts to finish second in the group.
Jeonbuk advance to the Round of 16 as Group H winners while Gamba have made second place their own with nine points. Chiangrai are third with five points with a game against fellow ASEAN side Tampines on the final day.