Johor Darul Ta'zim's huge upset of Ulsan caps off memorable ACL night for Southeast Asia

Bergson da Silva's 80th-minute winner handed Johor Darul Ta'zim a 2-1 victory over two-time winners Ulsan Hyundai in AFC Champions League 2022 on Monday. Annice Lyn/Getty Images

For almost the entire existence of the AFC Champions League, Southeast Asia's hopefuls have largely had to play second fiddle to the heavyweights.

Even with the competition split into halves, the East Zone has long been dominated by teams from Japan, South Korea, China and even Australia.

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The ASEAN region is still waiting to produce a second championship outfit to follow in the footsteps of the now-defunct Thai Farmers Bank, who won back-to-back titles from 1993 to 1995 when the competition was still in the Asian Club Championship era, and it most likely will go on for awhile longer.

But April 18, 2022 is now a date that will go down as the evening when Southeast Asia as good as ruled the ACL -- even if it was just for one night in the early stages of a group stage.

Malaysia Super League champions Johor Darul Ta'zim, who have been threatening to make the step up in recent years, pulled off arguably their most-famous result ever with a 2-1 triumph over two-time ACL winners Ulsan Hyundai -- who were last kings of the continent as recently as in 2020.

Despite facing adversity, with Fernando Forestieri's superb third-minute opener cancelled out by an Ulsan equaliser from Um Won-sang and having lost goalkeeper Haziq Nadzli -- already standing in for injured first-choice Farizal Marlias -- stretchered off in the 78th minute, JDT never caved.

And when Ulsan gave away possession cheaply inside their own half to hand the opposition an opening, it was inevitable that JDT would capitalise -- with Bergson da Silva producing a screamer of his own -- to snatch a memorable victory, one that perhaps even eclipses a 1-0 triumph over then-defending champions Kashima Antlers in their debut campaign of 2019.

While a place in the Round of 16 previously seemed a fantasy given the luck of the group-stage draw pitted JDT against two giants of the competition, the Southern Tigers now sit pretty on top of Group I and likely believing they can also give another powerhouse in Kawasaki Frontale a run for their money over the next two matches.

And it was not just JDT who were left reeling in delight on Monday evening, with Singapore's Lion City Sailors pulling off a stunning 3-0 Group F triumph over South Korea's Daegu -- who just last season made the knockout round.

It was not only the first-ever points in the ACL for a side that was only formed in 2020, but it also marked only the second occasion a Singaporean club has tasted victory in Asia's premier club competition.

Over in Group G, in a result that understandably paled in comparison to the other two, Thailand's BG Pathum United still deserved credit for a 2-0 triumph over another South Korean outfit in Jeonnam Dragons, who are admittedly a second-tier outfit only in the competition by virtue of having won their domestic cup competition last term.

Still Jeonnam are hardly slouches having headed into Monday's action top of their group, and -- having been handed a fairly kind draw -- BGPU will now be expected to kick on and ensure the ASEAN region has at least one representative come the Round of 16.

Unfortunately, it was not to be a perfect night for the ASEAN region as Philippines' United City fell to 3-0 loss at the hands of Melbourne City, although that might still be considered a positive result too given the Australian sides compete in Asian competition as part of the ASEAN Football Federation.

There could yet be more joy for Southeast Asia on Tuesday with Vietnamese club Hoang Anh Gia Lai taking on Sydney FC but regardless of the outcome of that match, the region will always have a Monday evening in April 2022 to fondly look back on.