The group stage of the 2019 AFC Cup kicked off on Wednesday, April 3rd, at Mong Kok Stadium, where two Hong Kong clubs featured in one of the two group matches. After 90 minutes of exciting drama and suspense, “visiting” Tai Po completed a perfect start into their continental campaign by beating Kitchee 2-4, with the decisive goal coming from joker Chung Wai-keung in the 89th minute of the contest.
Kitchee and Tai Po had already played each other four times in local competitions this season, but they understood the magnitude of having a good start into their continental campaigns for a better chance to qualify for the next round.
Led by Alex Chu, the Bluewaves were forced to start with less experienced players such as Harima Hirokane and Cheng Chin-lung due to the absence of injured Lucas Silva and suspended defender Matt Smith.
Nonetheless, the first shot of the game came from Kitchee, when Fernando fired on a target, but his shot was saved by Tsang Man-fai. Soon after. Harima faced the goalkeeper alone but he finished the chance with a weak effort. Helio’s excellent header following a corner was again denied.
However, after surviving the first 31 minutes, it was the Greens who opened the scoring with a fluke shot. A 40-yard one-hopper from Joao Emir was mishandled by Wang Zhengpeng and found the back of the net. With that, Tai Po took the 1-0 lead into half-time.
The lead for the “visiting” even doubled barely five minutes after the break. Igor Sartori carried the ball for ten yards before releasing a grounder that was deflected by Li Ngai-hoi to beat Wang.
A bigger deficit in goals forced Chu to shake things up for Kitchee in a span of seven minutes. Recio and Yuto Nakamura replaced Krisztian Vadocz and Harima Hirokane respectively, before Ju Yingzhi entered for Cheng. The changes gave the Bluewaves more strength in attacking. Consequently, they tallied the first goal in the tournament. A shot from Jordi Tarres outside the penalty area initially hit the left post, but Fernando sent the rebound to the top right corner to make it count.
In the 86th minute, the hosts found the equalizer after increasing the pressure. Dani Cancela intercepted a half-clearance 20 yards from goal before releasing the game-tying shot. The ball seemed to have some funny English to beat the goalkeeper.
While it looked like the match would end in a draw, the deadlock endured only two minutes as Tai Po saw an opening to notch the game-winner. Sartori connected Chung, who just came off the bench, with a terrific through pass, before the latter completed the breakaway within the box.
They then put the last nail in the coffin to secure the win. Three minutes into added time, Harrison Sawyer beat Wang from a sharp angle to complete their four-goal night.
The win was a historic moment for Tai Po, as it was the club’s first victory in the AFC group stage. Previously, they only accumulated two poins in their debut campaign in 2010.
Apart from the action on the pitch, some Kitchee fans also staged a small protest, holding a banner that read “Supporters not Cu$tomer$”. The club has been criticized for charging HK$ 180 for this match, which is HK$ 100 more than what Tai Po priced their tickets for the return match at the same venue on June 19th.
A small protest by Kitchee fans right at the beginning of the 2nd half as response to high ticket prices. The banner reads “SUPPORTERS NOT CU$TOMERS”. Kitchee decided to charge HK$180 for this match. When Tai Po host Kitchee in #AFCCup, tickets will be HK$100 less pic.twitter.com/IYZsFsisfy
— Football in HK (@offsideHK) April 3, 2019
In the other match of the group, the visiting North Korean side April 25 won against Hang Yuen in Taipei, with a score of 0-3. As a result, April 25 and Tai Po lead the group with three points each, while Kitchee and Huang Yang will look for their first win on Matchday 2 on April 17th.
Photos by Dennis Lo