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Lifeline for Caroliners: South China grab late equaliser to stay alive in the AFC Cup quarter-finals

New signing Nikola Komazec gave South China a lifeline on Tuesday night, describing his ­crucial stoppage-time equaliser as “beautiful” in an AFC Cup quarter-final first leg against Malaysia’s Johor Darul Tazim.

The tense match at Mong Kok Stadium ended in a 1-1 draw.

In a high-tempo encounter, which saw players from both sides tangle in an ugly pushing and shoving clash late in the match, the Serbian striker earned the biggest cheers of the night from the 3,700-strong crowd when he crashed home the equaliser three minutes into injury time.

Second-half substitute Lam Hok-hei glanced the ball back into the penalty area and Komazec, who had been a threat up front throughout the game, hooked a half volley from close range to find the all-important equaliser.

WATCH: Highlights from South China v Johor Darul Tazim

https://youtu.be/QMVmIQOITfU?list=PLPkuWEMcRg4E4X521WM2fQVb64fUMXqCH

“It’s a beautiful feeling,” said the 28 year-old striker, who was named the game’s MVP following his impressive performance for the home team. “The goal has given me and the team sufficient confidence for the next game.”

Despite the result, the Caroliners face a tough return leg in Johor in a week’s time, but coach ­Ricardo Rambo believes his side can cause an upset.

“Our performance gave us a boost and I am confident we can win the match in Johor if we can score,” said the coach. “We drew 1-1 in the away match in the same tournament last year but then they came to Hong Kong and beat us. We can do the same thing away this time.”

Johor were in control in the first half and Rambo said his side gave them too much respect, ­although he always believed they could come back after Johor’s ­Jorge Pereyra Diaz opened the scoring in the 22nd minute.

“I knew we could score even when the chips were down ­because we created a lot of chances in the second half and we put a lot pressure on them,” said Rambo. “We had to make the game more difficult for them and not allow them to dictate.”

Diaz’s goal came after he hit a low drive, with South China goalkeeper Leung Hing-kit reacting too slow as he watched the ball roll into the far corner.

South China threw everything into attack and kept their AFC Cup hopes alive with Komazec’s effort late on to save the blushes.