ACL / AFC Cup

Historic victory for Kitchee in the Asian Champions League

Photo: Christie Leung (offside.hk)

On Wednesday, March 14th, Kitchee hosted Kashiwa Reysol for an Asian Champions League match-up at Hong Kong Stadium after losing to the same side one week earlier. However, this time the Bluewaves  surprisingly completed the revenge by beating the opposition 1-0, achieving their first victory in group stage of top-flight continental competition, and with it the first victory of a Hong Kong club in history. 

The match-winning goal of 20-year-old substitute Cheng Chin-lung decided the evening two minutes into added time. His superb left-footed effort from the edge of the box curled into the back of the net to break the scoreless deadlock.

The Japanese side seemingly dominated the first quarter of hour. However, Kitchee enjoyed a one-man advantage, when Alex Akande was brought down from behind by Kamekawa Masashi at the edge of the box, forcing the referee to send off the defender on a direct red card. Unfortunately, the subsequent free kick by Diego Forlán sailed too high.

From that moment on, Kitchee picked up some momentum that helped to generate several opportunities. Once again, Forlán struck one barely over the goal frame in the 34th minute, after receiving a pass from Akande. And one minute later, Fernando’s effort was blocked by Kashiwa’s defense.

The best opportunity for the visitors came from Segawa Yusuke, who covered some distance and dribbled past Kim Bongjin for a one-on-one with Wang Zhenpeng, but his shot aiming for the far end went marginally wide.

After the break, though a man short, Kashiwa still targeted three points for the night, relying heavily on counter-attacks. Koike Ryuta’s long lob found Segawa in the six-yard box, but sandwiched by defenders, he could not pull the trigger. Ramon Lopes’ long shot seemed to hit the target, if not deflected away by Li Ngai-hoi. The same Brazilian tested Wang with another dandy, which just went over the crossbar.

Both managers tried to boost their respective offense midway through the second half. Alex Chu entered Jordi Tarres for captain Lo Kwan-yee, while Shimotaira Takahiro went for Cristiano and Ito Junya, lone scorer in last week’s match in Japan.

However, clear-cut chances were at premium until Cheng released an epic finish to upset the opposition. A crowd of 7,771 erupted into joy for Kitchee’s achievement that was unprecedented in history of Hong Kong football.

In the postgame press conference, Chu complimented his whole squad, especially his defense, for the difficult win. Although suffering three straight losses at the beginning of the tournament, they gradually got used to the pace of the Champions League and found ways to stop the opponents.

Despite earning three points, the Bluewaves stay at the bottom of the group, one point behind Kashiwa. Leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are still on top, followed by second-placed Tianjin Quanjian who beat Jeonbuk 4-2 this week. Kitchee’s next match will be on April 4th, hosting the Chinese Super League side at Mong Kok Stadium, for what promises to be a sold-out night.

 

Photos by Christie Leung, Zinc Yeung, Ken Wu, and Dennis Lo.

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