A night of drama unfolded at Hong Kong stadium as Kitchee defeated Hanoi FC of Vietnam 3-2 in a wildly unpredictable and entertaining match which saw the lead change hands several times.
Asian Champions League Qualifier
Lam Ka Wai 120+3′
Hanoi FC 2
Kitchee have always sought to play at the highest level of Asian continental football and this victory over the Vietnamese outfit means they are one step away from this desired goal.
The home side dominated the game in the first half and had a whole slew of chances to take the lead. In the 4th minute, Kitchee’s Fernando took the ball around the Hanoi goalkeeper, Tran Anh Duc, though his shot was cleared off the line. A few minutes later, Sandro, who was a constant threat all night for the home team, had a glancing header which just went wide. In the 22nd minute, Helio’s header was well saved by Duc; the follow-up volley by Huang Yang smashed onto the bar. Kitchee deserved the lead but struggled to put the ball away. Relentless attacks and pressure leaft Hanoi lucky not to be several goals behind.
The imposing figure of Hong Kong international Sandro tormented the Vietnamese defence all night and he had a whole host of chances to score and again went close on the 37th minute when his free-kick hit the bar. The first half ended 0-0 with Kitchee somewhat surprised not to be in front.
Hanoi FC took a shock lead in the 73rd minute when Gonzalo slipped a shot past Wang Zhenpeng in what was probably Hanoi’s first real chance. Kitchee upped the pressure and Sandro equalized in the 85th minute and the game went into extra time.
Alex Akande gave Kitchee the lead in the 108th minute though he injured himself and had to go off and having made all their changes the home team had to play the rest of the game with ten men. Gonzalo pulled a goal back for Hanoi in the 115 minute and the game was level again with the clock ticking down.
It was left to long serving club servant Kitchee midfielder, Lam Ka Wai, to find some space and head home the winning goal in the third minute of injury time in the second half of extra time to give Kitchee the victory they richly deserved. The small yet impassioned crowd went delirious and the Lam disappeared under a mould of players and staff as wild celebrations broke out.
Kitchee snatched a win at the death when it seemed the game would be settled by penalties. The Hong Kong side will have a date with destiny on February 7th when they face Ulsan Hyundai (K-League) away in a play-off with the winner reaching the promised land of the Asian Champions League.
Kitchee are taking the longer route but it could all be worth it.
Photos by JRP Borthwick and Christopher KL Lau