edited by Jeff Hardbattle
After a mixed start for Hong Kong’s representative teams in the AFC Cup last time around, disaster struck for Kitchee and South China this week as they both succumbed to losses in their respective groups against teams from Singapore and India, nations that Hong Kong top flight clubs have largely had the lion’s share of favourable results against in the more recent history of the competition.
BALESTIER KHALSA 1:0 KITCHEE
(Match report by Jeff Hardbattle)
(Balestier Khalsa goalscorers: Hassim 31′)
After Abraham Garcia stepped down as head coach last week, things got worse for Kitchee as they came up short against Singaporean side Balestier Khalsa, who at the time of writing currently sit bottom of the S-League table.
Without the likes of Fernando, Jordi and Recio (injury) and Akande, Helio, Sandro and Jared Lum (ineligible for AFC Cup 2016), the bluewaves were forced to field a weakened side that included only two overseas players, namely Rufino and Annan.
As a result, Kitchee looked largely underwhelming going forward and were limited to half chances in the first half, the best of which was a Lam Ka Wai curling shot from just outside of the 18 yard box that Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam Bin Abdullah was comfortably able to deal with.
Just after the half hour mark, the home side scored the only goal of the match after good work down the right flank from 27-year-old striker Fadhil Noh, whose low pass into the box cut past the back of the hurriedly returning Kitchee centre-backs, allowing Hassim Zulkiffli to coolly place the ball to the left of Wang Zhenpeng to put Balestier in front by 1:0.
Things could have been worse for Kitchee after Croatian striker Miroslav Kristic was brought down in the area by Wang Zhenpeng soon afterwards, and the referee was in no doubt about awarding a penalty to Balestier. Kristic himself stepped up for the spot kick, but Wang redeemed himself by palming away the ball to keep his side in the game.
Kitchee huffed and puffed in the second half, but despite having the majority of the possession they were unable to break down a spirited and resolute defensive performance from the former Singaporean champions.
The result leaves the bluewaves in second place in Group F, a point behind Balestier Khalsa and equal on points with Kaya FC (PHI), who triumphed in their match over New Radiant (MLD) by 1:0.
STADIUM: Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore
SOUTH CHINA 0:4 MOHUN BAGAN
(Match report by Tobias Zuser)
(Mohun Bagan goalscorers: Rodrigues 15′; Norde 39′; Glen 44′; Lalpekhlua 83′)
Losing their first match unexpectedly to Myanmar side Yangon United, expectations were still high that South China would be able to repeat their ambitious AFC Cup performance from last year. However, Wednesday night marked an alarming indicator that other Asian countries are catching up faster than expected, as I-League champions Mohun Bagan ran out as comfortable 4:0 winners.
Right from the kick off, the visitors displayed a bold performance, provoking both tactical fouls while relying heavily on powerful counter-attacks over the wings. 15 minutes into the game, captain Katsumi Yusa took his chance from a 20-yard free kick and goalkeeper Leung Hin Kit’s inept save offered Lenny Rodrigues an unintended gift, who simply tapped the ball into the open net.
Syrian referee Masoud Tufayelieh tried to earn some respect through rigorous punishments and soon South China left-back Che Runqiu had to face the consequences after an unnecessarily hard tackle in the midfield. It seemed that the referee was not immediately aware that he was awarding a second yellow card to the same player, but after he received a signal from his assistant, Che eventually saw red and was sent off.
Being a goal down and with just 10 players left, the Caroliners were pushed over the edge and their match plan descended into chaos. Mohun Baghan of course knew how to exploit this situation perfectly. In the 39th minute, South China centre-back Cheung Chi Yung was duped by Sony Norde, who then made an uninterrupted sprint into the six-yard box, where he calmly slotted the ball into the far corner.
One minute before half time, the South China defense was once again a shadow of its former self, making it far too easy for Mohun Bagan to grab their third goal. This time it was Glen Cornell, after a wonderful one-two pass between himself and Sony Norde.
In spite of the hopeless situation, South China boss Mior brought on Chu Siu Kei and Chak Ting Fung – and indeed, South China appeared to be much better organized in the second half, although they lacked the cutting edge in the final third of the field. Centre forward Ryan Griffith worked hard up front, but was not given enough time and space to position himself inside the box, where he is usually at his most dangerous. Instead, he often ended up on the wings by himself with no one left in the middle to pick up the cross.
The Indian guests just had to wait for their opportunities, and in the 83rd minute one presented itself when Katsumi Yusa initiated a set piece from another free kick. Needless to say, it was again Cheung Chi Yung who lost the duel with Lalpekhlua Jeje, whose header found the back of the net to make it 4:0.
In truth, South China could have been on the end of an even bigger thrashing, especially after Sony Norde sent the ball over an empty goal – a video that has since gone viral. During the post-match conference, coach Christian Mior didn’t try to sugarcoat the embarrassing performance by his men, and also admitted that the players were crying in the changing room after the game. Rather than lamenting on the red card, Mior blamed the result on “stupid” mistakes, that just cannot happen at this level. His team also had to do without local veteran Chan Siu Ki and midfielder Luiz Carlos, which obviously weakened the available squad even further, with Mior seeing his side currently at 80% of their full potential. After just two AFC Cup games, last year’s quarter finalist South China are already with their backs to the wall. On March 16th, they will face Maldivian side Maziya away, and anything else than a win would probably be the end for the Caroliners in this campaign, before it has even begun.
STADIUM: Mong Kok Stadium
AFC CUP GROUP F (10/3/2016)
|BALESTIER KHALSA FC (SIN)||2||1||1||0||3||2||1||4|
|KAYA FC (PHI)||2||1||0||1||1||1||0||3|
|NEW RADIANT SC (MDV)||2||0||1||1||2||3||-1||1|
AFC CUP GROUP G (10/3/2016)
|MOHUN BAGAN (IND)||2||2||0||0||9||2||7||6|
|YANGON UNITED (MYA)||2||1||1||0||3||2||1||4|
|MAZIYA SPORTS & RECREATION (MDV)||2||0||1||1||3||6||-3||1|
|SOUTH CHINA (HKG)||2||0||0||2||1||6||-5||0|