Eastern have finally reached the promised land of the Asian Champions league and Hong Kong will see the highest level of continental club football grace it’s shores for the first time in it’s history. Eastern have been drawn in Group G with Chinese club giants Guangzhou Evergrande (CSL), Suwon Samsung Bluewings (K-League) and the third allocated spot for the Japanese J-league (either Urawa Reds or Kawasaki Frontale). All will be formidable opponents in terms of squad strength, monetary backing and continental experience and Eastern will be hoping to be able to gain at least a few decent results especially at home in games set to be scheduled at the small but frenzied Mong Kok stadium.
Prior to this, drama and twists almost saw no Hong Kong clubs being able to compete in the Champions League. Eastern had to pull out initially as their financial sponsor ceased to fund them which meant they had to drop out of the Champions league. This paved the way forward for Kitchee, in theory, to take their place in the group stages and for HKPL minnows Southern to attempt to qualify via the play-offs. This was thrown on it’s head when Eastern found a new sponsor and sought to be reinstated back into the competition. With the financial and publicity stakes so high, this unleashed a war of words between the HKFA, Eastern, Kitchee and Southern. When the dust settled Eastern were given the go ahead to compete in the group stage while Kitchee would have to attempt to go through via the playoffs.
Now fans and the Hong Kong football community will be hoping to place the negativity and politics of the past few months behind them and look forward to the biggest names in the J-league, K-league and the Chinese Super League rolling into town. Southern of the HKPL will be licking their wounds as they will not be able to compete at all.
Eastern’s home and away games against cross border neighbours Evergrande will help answer the much discussed question of whether or not Hong Kong clubs can compete on a regular basis in the Chinese leagues. The games will bring the same air of both excitement and tension that the 2018 World Cup qualifiers between China and Hong Kong generated and while Evergrande fans are used to such high octane games their Eastern counterparts will now have the chance to travel far and wide for their away games.
Mark Sutcliffe, Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong Football Association, looked forward to Champions’s League football in Hong Kong and the achievements of Eastern manager, Chan Yuen Ting:
“Let’s face it we now have the incredible story of a young rookie female coach pitting her wits against a former World Cup winning coach in Felipe Scolari who of course also managed Chelsea in the Premier League; you couldn’t make it up! Guangzhou Evergrande are two times winners of the ACL and have a reputed team value of close to US$300m.”
Kitchee Face Playoffs
Kitchee were almost guaranteed a direct group stage but now will have to qualify via two place off games to reach the group stages. Kitchee have been in this position before and have always fallen short. Kitchee have fared well in the AFC Cup though ideally would like to compete with the heavyweights in the Champions league group stages.
Kitchee will play against Hanoi T&T (Vietnam) in the preliminary stage round 2 at home on 31 Jan 2017. The winner of this game will then proceed to the next playoff stage and face Jeju United FC (K-League) on 7 Feb 2017.
If Kitchee proceeds to group stage, the team will play in Group E and face teams of Kashima Antlers (Japan), Muangthong United (Thailand), and team of Shanghai Shenhua FC(China)/Brisbane Roar (Australia)/Global FC(Philippines)/Tampines Rovers FC (Singapore) who qualifies from playoff stage.
To have one Hong Kong team in the group stages is a great step forward for the local Hong Kong game though, having two would simply be an added bonus and a treat for fans long starved of the game at the highest levels.
Eastern – Full schedule for Group G:
22 Feb 2017 – Guangzhou Evergrande vs Eastern
01 Mar 2017 – Eastern SC vs (J-League Team)
14 Mar 2017 – Eastern SC vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings
12 Apr 2017 – Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs Eastern SC
25 Apr 2017 – Eastern SC vs Guangzhou Evergrande
09 May 2017 – (J-League Team) vs Eastern SC
Kitchee – Play-Off Schedule:
31 Jan 2017 – Kitchee vs Hanoi T&T
07 Feb 2017 – Jeju United vs Kitchee
Shanghai SIPG – Play-off Schedule
07 Feb 2017 Shanghai SIPG v Sukhothai / Yadanarbon
Shanghai Shenhua – Play-off Schedule
08 Feb 2017 – Shanghai Shenhua v Brisbane Roar / Tampines Rovers / Global