BANGKOK -- Muang Thong United goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan was the hero as the Thai Premier League side finally overcame Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) on penalty kicks in the AFC Champions League (ACL) preliminary round at the SCG Stadium.
Kawin saved an incredible three penalties as the Kirins won the shootout 3-0, after the game had ended goalless. It means that JDT are eliminated from the ACL and will now look to defend their title in the AFC Cup.
The two sides were evenly matched for the first two thirds of an entertaining contest but the Thais finished the stronger and just about deserved the victory.
Muang Thong were dealt a blow with the news that Teerasil Dangda was not fit enough to take his place in the lineup that took to the field. The Thailand striker was named as substitute but last week's trio of signings from BEC Tero Sasana -- Chanathip Songkrasin, Tanaboon Kesarat and Peerapat Notechaiya -- all started.
The visitors began brightly and Kawin had to be quick off his line when Safiq Rahim tried to play in Jorge Diaz.
A minute later, Mahali Bin Jasuli's fine volley from the edge of the box drifted just wide. But the hosts hit back when Tanaboon's speculative effort from 40 yards took a deflection and had JDT keeper Farizal Marlias scrambling to make the save.
Chanathip almost made his first telling contribution when he caught out the JDT defence with a searching pass over the top. But Farizal won the race to the ball before Muang Thong's Brazilian strikers Cleiton Silva and Negrao.
Chanathip was beginning to find more space and a clever through pass found the overlapping Thitiphan Puangchan. The midfielder's cut back was well intercepted by Farizal and the danger passed.
But JDT soon had a chance to open the scoring when Diaz slipped the ball to Safiq on the edge of the box. But the skipper mis-hit his shot and it trundled into Kawin's arms.
The Kirins came close when another Peerapat cross was volleyed wide by Silva and Kunanlan Subramaniam then rescued the Malaysians with a last ditch challenge to deny Negrao a clear shot on goal.
But JDT hit back again when Safiq forced his way into the Muang Thong box and found Diaz. The Argentinian looked certain to score until an excellent challenge from Suphan Thongsong deflected his close-range shot over the bar.
Mahali had Kawin worried when his powerful 25-yard drive went narrowly over.
But the best chance of the half fell to the hosts' new striker Negrao in the 45th minute. Sarach Yooyen's corner found the Brazilian with a free header from eight yards out but he fluffed his lines and headed wide with the goal at his mercy.
In the fifth minute of the second half, Negrao thought he had atoned for his miss when he found the net with a header but the strike was ruled offside.
The home side then had another excellent chance to take the lead when Sarach played a fine through ball to Thitiphan, who had broken clear. But Farizal came off his line quickly and saved Thitiphan's shot with his legs.
JDT reminded the hosts of their threat when Diaz broke down the right and teed up Safiq on the edge of the box. However, the JDT captain had run slightly ahead of the ball and scooped his shot over the bar.
Negrao was then back in the action when Chanathip squared the ball to him after a fine run down the left. But the striker failed to get any power in his shot on the turn and Farizal saved comfortably.
Muang Thong passed up another great chance on 67 minutes after a lightning counter attack. Kawin claimed the ball from a JDT corner and found Chanathip, who passed wide right to Kasidech Wattayawong. The substitute looked up and played the ball across to Silva. But, with just Farizal to beat, the Brazilian side-footed wide.
With 15 minutes remaining, Naoki Aoyama blew another fine opportunity as he headed Sarach's corner wide and Negrao then hesitated too long after Silva had put him in the clear, allowing Farizal to tackle him.
Chanathip tried to take matters into his own hands as he cut inside and launched a stinging shot from 20 yards, which Farizal pushed wide.
JDT were now under severe pressure and their keeper was called into action again as he tipped over Silva's looping header.
With extra-time looming, Diaz had a chance to win it for JDT but, when the ball broke to him 16 yards out, his weak shot was straight at Kawin.
The game ended goalless and both teams had to steel themselves for an extra 30 minutes.
Muang Thong fans roared their approval when Chanathip nonchalantly evaded Safee Sali's challenge with a neat flick but there was little else to cheer in the first period of extra time.
In a bid to settle the game before a penalty shoot-out, the home side turned to fans favourite Teerasil and he replaced the misfiring Negrao for the final 15 minutes. The Thai national striker almost made an immediate impact when his cheeky back heel found Silva but the Brazilian fired well over from distance.
The hosts came much closer a minute later when Sarach turned inside his man on the edge of the box and curled a beautiful left-footed shot beyond Farizal but off the bar.
In added time in extra time, there was one final chance for Muang Thong but Peerapat failed to hit the target with his effort from the left side of the box, sending the game to a shootout.
JDT were first up and Kawin saved Diaz's kick, low to his right.
After Silva had put the hosts ahead, Kawin stopped JDT's second kick, this time from Marcos Antonio.
Peerapat put the Kirins two in front before Kawin incredibly saved again -- this time from Singapore's Hariss Harun. This set the stage for Sarach to stroke home the winning penalty -- a fitting reward for the man of the match.
Muang Thong now head to China to face Shanghai SIPG in the play-off round but JDT will be encouraged by a performance that was a huge improvement on the dismal 3-0 defeat to Bangkok Glass at the same stage of the ACL last year.