Kitchee salvage AFC Champions League pride, stroll to Lion City Sailors victory
Kitchee belatedly showed their quality on the AFC Champions League stage, comfortably beating Lion City Sailors 2-0 in Singapore on Wednesday.
The Hong Kong champions delivered a controlled, clinical performance that was head and shoulders above the lethargic football they served up earlier in the competition.
Kitchee led from the 11th minute, when Chris van Huizen crashed a bouncing Fernando cross high into his own net. Fernando, a surprise omission from head coach Jorn Andersen’s Hong Kong Asian Cup finals squad this week, added the second with 13 minutes remaining.
Kim Dong-jin could well have left Jalan Besar Stadium with mixed emotions. The South Korean has overseen tremendous improvement since a calamitous display in the reverse fixture two months ago left Kitchee facing questions over the unity and direction of the club.
The only question concerned what would have been possible had Kitchee located their stride much earlier in a group stage that held few challenges.
And frustrations have been heightened by the fact this season’s domestic champions qualify only for a new second-tier Champions League competition, with the elite tournament reserved for 24 teams from the 12 best leagues in the region, of which Hong Kong is not one.
The door has slammed in the face of Lion City too, and the Singapore club’s head coach Aleksandar Rankovic said he was “very disappointed we cannot play in this competition next season”.
He will not want many more nights like this one, however. Zharfan Rohaizad had already saved from Fernando and Tan Chun-lok, when Van Huizen inadvertently handed Kitchee the lead.
It initially looked as if Lion City would wriggle off the hook, with Igor Sartori deemed to have fouled Van Huizen, as the defender made a mess of dealing with Fernando’s delivery. But VAR intervened, and the goal stood.
Wang Zhenpeng’s reflex stop from Bailey Wright’s deflected header belied his advancing years, and the 39-year-old Kitchee keeper made a pair of good saves from Shawal Anuar after the break. But Kitchee remained unflustered, and deserved their two-goal advantage after Fernando slalomed into box from wide on the left to slot a composed finish through legs of Wright and beyond Rohaizad into the far corner.
“The players showed good character and mentality and I am so happy with the performance,” Kim said. “It is not easy to play here, but we deserved to win the game.”
The Hong Kong Football Association, meanwhile, has announced plans to host a Hong Kong Premier League Cup at Mong Kok Stadium between December 28 and January 1.
Last season’s top four – Kitchee, Lee Man, BC Rangers and Eastern – will contest a knockout competition, with the third-placed play-off and final scheduled for New Year’s Day.
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