Tough draw for HK clubs in AFC competitions

Photo: AFC

The 2019 AFC Champions League and AFC Cup draws were held in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, November 22nd. Current Premier League champions Kitchee, as expected, will enter the ACL preliminary round, and would fall back to group I of the AFC Cup if they lose. Meanwhile, Premier League runners-up Tai Po will face either Erchim FC from Mongolia or Ryomyong SC from DPR Korea in the AFC Cup play-off round. However, there has also been some confusion around the draw. AFC stated that Pegasus would replace Kitchee in the AFC Cup group stage if the Bluewaves would advance to the group stage of  the Asian Champions League. Both HKFA and Tai Po have questioned the fairness of this order, as it would mean that Tai Po would nonetheless have to play the AFC Cup play off, whereas Pegasus could enter directly despite finishing behind the Greens in the league last season. 

Kitchee will play their first ACL qualifying round against Perak TBG from Malaysia on February 12th in a one-legged away affair. If they win, they would face a yet-to-be-determined K-League side in the play off on February 19th, which will be decided by a single away game in South Korea. Two years ago the Hong Kong club lost against Ulsan on penalties. Provided that Kitchee are victorious this time, they would advance to group H of the AFC Champions League, where they would face Shanghai SIPG, Kawasaki Frontale and Sydney FC. The group stage games would start on March 4th.

If Kitchee fail to qualify for the ACL, they will instead directly enter group I of the AFC Cup which consists of DPR Korea champions April 25 SC and Taiwan representatives Hang Yuen FC. The latters finished third in the Taiwan Football Premier League in 2018, but both Tatung FC and Taiwan Power Company FC failed to obtain the necessary AFC club licenses. Tai Po will take on Erchim FC from Mongolia or Ryomyong SC from DPR Korea in the AFC Cup play-off round in early March and will complete group I if they win.

Meanwhile, both Tai Po and HKFA representatives were confused when the AFC announced Pegasus as the standby team for Kitchee should the Bluewaves advance to the ACL group stage. According to the recent competition guidelines, the next eligible club from the relevant member association would join the AFC Cup group stage, which was generally believed to be Tai Po as the runners-up of the 2017-18 Premier League. However, according to an unofficial reply from the AFC during the draw, Pegasus was named as the standby team due to scheduling arrangements. According to reports, the HKFA has made an official inquiry of objection and both HKFA and Tai Po may appeal the decision depending on the eventual reply from the AFC.

Both Kitchee and Tai Po are expected to play all of their AFC Cup or ACL games in Mong Kok Stadium, as Tai Po Sports Ground does not meet the overall AFC requirements for international competitions. However, if both clubs would compete in the same AFC Cup group, they would both have to host separate home games on May 1st. It is still unknown how the AFC would handle this situation and early reports suggested that the fixtures may be rearranged once the participating teams are confirmed.

AFC Cup – Group I:
Kitchee/Pegasus (Hong Kong)
April 25 (DPR Korea)
Hang Yuen (Chinese Taipei)
Tai Po (Hong Kong) / Erchim (Mongolia) / Ryomyong (DPR Korea)

AFC Cup play off:
6 March 2019 – Erchim/Ryomyong vs Tai Po
13 March 2019 – Tai Po vs Erchim/Ryomyong

AFC Cup match days:
3 April 2019 – Kitchee/Pegasus vs Tai Po/Erchim/Ryomyong
3 April 2019 – Hang Yuen vs April 25
17 April 2019 – April 25 vs Kitchee/Pegasus
17 April 2019 – Tai Po/Erchim/Ryomyong vs Hang Yuen
1 May 2019 – Kitchee/Pegasus vs Hang Yuen
1 May 2019 – Tai Po/Erchim/Ryomyong vs April 25
15 May 2019 – April 25 vs Tai Po/Erchim/Ryomyong
15 May 2019 – Hang Yuen vs Kitchee/Pegasus
19 June 2019 – Tai Po/Erchim/Ryomyong vs Kitchee/Pegasus
19 June 2019 – April 25 vs Hang Yuen
26 June 2019 – Kitchee/Pegasus vs April 25
26 June 2019 – Hang Yuen vs Tai Po/Erchim/Ryomyong


ACL group H:
Syndey FC (Australia)
Kawasaki Frontale (Japan)
Shanghai SIPG (China)
TBC 4 (South Korea)/Kitchee (Hong Kong)/Perak (Malaysia)

Preliminary round 2:
12 February 2019 – Perak vs Kitchee
19 February 2019 – South Korea 4 vs Kitchee/Perak

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