NagaWorld’s desperate search for a big win over Erchim FC ended in defeat at the hands of the Mongolian champions, who scored the only goal of their Group B final game in the 2017 AFC Cup qualifiers deep into stoppage time at the Ulanbaatar Stadium.
Needing victory against the local giants by a three-goal margin to overhaul group leaders Three Star Club of Nepal, Naga threw everything at their rivals to no avail.
A strong Mongolian backline and their sharp counterattacks often pinned Naga down, yet the Casino-backed outfit were left to rue a plethora of missed chances, the most prominent being a free-kick that struck the upright by Khim Borey late in the game.
Erchim’s match winner came just when the contest seemed destined for a goalless draw, and was greeted with joy by Three Star Club, who can now look forward to the January 24 and 31 playoffs on the strength of being the Group B toppers with four points.
While Erchim, beaten 2-0 by Three Star in the opening fixture, finished second with three points, Naga ended up at the bottom of the three-team group with just one point from their 1-1 draw with Three Star.
Meanwhile, two Prak Mony Odom free-kicks helped home side Preah Khan Reach to a 3-2 win over defending champions Phnom Penh Crown at the Svay Rieng Stadium on Wednesday evening.
While Svay Rieng have a game remaining, six-time champions Crown finished their league season with 28 points from eight wins, four draws and five defeats to find themselves mid-table.
Having won a major battle on the legal front at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in getting their ban from the AFC Cup continental competition overturned, Crown were determined to sign off the campaign on a bright note, and they managed to cause an early stir before the home side grabbed the upper hand in the 10th minute.
Hardworking Hoy Phalin had room and sped inside the box, driving the ball past Crown keeper Keo Soksela for the first goal in what was turning into an entertaining affair.
South Korean Kim Hyeon-woo shot wide from close range after getting a clever pass from Keo Sokpheng, adding to his dismay after seeing a goal minutes earlier ruled out for offside.
As the clock ticked to the half-hour mark, a curling free-kick from Odom into the top corner saw the home side take a firm hold on the first session.
After missing a couple of promising attempts, Crown hit back in the 67th minute when Sokpheng polished off a defence-splitting run from South Korean midfielder Jan In-yong.
After Jang’s header off a Bin Thierry free-kick had been spectacularly saved by the Svay Rieng keeper, Odom produced another stunning free-kick to stretch the lead to 3-1.
Deep into stoppage time, Kok Boris capped a strong run with an accurate long-range shot, but by then the game was over for the defending champs.