BG Pathum United throw down gauntlet in AFC Champions League with dominant win over Kitchee

Singapore international Ikhsan Fandi bagged a 25-yard stunner on Friday to help BG Pathum United to a 4-0 win over Kitchee in the 2022-23 AFC Champions League Round of 16. Kenta Harada/Getty Images

It has been 27 years since a club from Thailand were last crowned champions of Asia.

There is still plenty of football to be played between now and next February's final, but BG Pathum United look legitimate contenders for the 2022-23 AFC Champions League title.

Having advanced to the knockout stage by finishing top of their group three months ago, BGPU comfortably eased through the Round of 16 on Friday with an impressive 4-0 win over Hong Kong's Kitchee at Urawa Komaba Stadium.

- JDT's ACL dream ends but they will learn from defeat to Urawa
- Salvation still on the cards as Vissel stun Marinos in ACL last-16
- Jeonbuk down Daegu but show little to suggest they can win ACL

The Thai League 1 outfit looked in control of proceedings even before Worachit Kanitsribampen capitalised on a goalkeeping error by Wang Zhenpeng to hand his side the lead in the 34th minute.

A stunning 25-yard effort from Ikhsan Fandi just five minutes later tightened their stranglehold on proceedings, before second-half strikes by Teerasil Dangda and Chatmongkol Thongkiri capped off a dominant victory.

From the earlier last-16 ties on Thursday, the East Zone quarterfinals already featured a Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors outfit that flattered to deceive in a 2-1 extra-time win over Daegu, while Vissel Kobe rose to the occasion with a 3-2 victory over Yokohama F. Marinos yet have been otherwise struggling this season on the domestic front.

And for those reasons, it is not difficult to see why BG Pathum could emerge as frontrunners to advance all the way to February's decider -- where they will meet the finalists from the West Zone.

In Japanese coach Makoto Teguramori, BGPU have a tactician that has brought with him a wealth of experience since taking charge in February -- with previous spells in charge of the Japan U-23 national team, as well as Japanese teams Vegalta Sendai and V-Varen Nagasaki.

And while BG Pathum's rise may be fairly recent, given Thai football had previously been dominated by Buriram United and Muangthong United, they have now assembled what looks to be perfectly-balanced squad with the right amount of lead actors and supporting cast.

Legendary Thailand striker Teerasil and 23-year-old Singapore international Ikhsan are always going to steal the spotlight.

After all, one has been the leading Southeast Asian striker of his generation, and the other is promising to claim similar status in years to come.

The fact that Teguramori had the luxury of bringing Brazilian import Diogo -- a seasoned ACL campaigner with Buriram and Johor Darul Ta'zim -- off the bench with Friday's game already won highlights the depth he boasts in his team.

Nonetheless, beyond their star attackers, it is a strong backbone of unsung heroes that enhances the notion that BGPU could go far in this year's ACL campaign.

Sarach Yooyen is a genuine star of Southeast Asian football even if his simple style of play means he rarely grabs the headlines. The same can be said for winger Pathompol Charoenrattanapirom, whose tireless displays arguably made him BGPU's best player of the group stage.

Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul, newly signed from Chiangrai United, slotted alongside Sarach in the engine room seamlessly, while fellow rising talent Worachit continues to grow with each game.

Irfan Fandi, older brother of Ikhsan, and Andres Tunez combine for a formidable centre-back partnership in front of the ever-reliable Kittipong Phuthawchueak, who is now causing a few eyebrows to be raised that he only just won his first cap for Thailand this year at the age of 32.

Given the East Zone is usually dominated by teams from Japan and South Korea, BGPU could still head into the quarterfinals as underdogs depending on who they are pitted against in Saturday's draw.

But after Friday's demolition of Kitchee, they have thrown down the gauntlet -- both for themselves and for Thai football as a whole.