Kitchee were eliminated from the 2018 AFC Champions League following their 0-1 loss to Tianjin Quanjian on Wednesday night, April 4th, at Mong Kok Stadium, after conceding a late header from Anthony Modeste. Facing a squad being worth ten times more than themselves, Kitchee put on their best performance yet in this continental campaign and could feel the bitterness in not earning a point from their hard work in front of a full-house crowd of 6,299 fans.
Kitchee was without their starting centre-backs Nando Recio and Helio due to injuries and hence reverted to a 4-4-2 formation with Li Ngai-hoi coming in to partner with Kim Bong-jin in the middle. Tianjin started off dangerously with attempts from Wang Jie and Zhao Xuri that were cleared by Kitchee’s defense. Kitchee’s first chance came through Diego Forlan in the 18th minute, who saw his shot parried by Zhang Lu. It was Forlan again in the 28th minute picking up Alex Akande inside the box whose shot went out wide. The combination of Forlan and Akande kept Tianjin’s defense busy until the end of the first half, but neither side found the back of the net. Tianjin’s closest chance came just before the whistle, when Wang Zhenpang was quick enough to turn Wang Yongpyo’s long range shot away.
Kitchee returned from the break with more confidence and eager to attack, while Tianjin slowed themselves slightly down, probably knowing that a draw would be enough to get them through to the next round. Krisztian Vadocz gained space as a result and kept pushing forward. His shot in the 55th minute just went wide of the post. Few minutes later, Jordi Tarres arrived just a second too late for Vadocz’s dangerous through ball into the box. With about ten minutes remaining on the clock, Tianjin regained more possession and kept pumping the ball into the box. Eventually, the goal came in the 89th minute, when Wang Xiaolong hit a high cross from the left that skipped past Wang Zhenpeng and Kitchee’s defenders to Kwon Kyung-won at the far post, who provided a easy header for Anthony Modeste into the empty net at the near post. Offside concerns were raised inside the stadium, however, replays showed Kwon was clearly onside for Wang’s cross while Modeste was onside for the goal too.
Both Tianjin Quanjian and Jeonbuk Hyundai bagged three away points this week and therefore are going to proceed to the next round of the competition together. Kitchee will play their final ACL game away in Jeonju, South Korea, against group leader Jeonbuk Hyundai on April 14th.
Photos by Christie Leung, Zinc Yeung, Chris KL Lau and Dennis Lo.