AFC Champions League Group G
Guangzhou Evergrande 7
Hopes were high for Eastern as they made their Asian Champions league debut in the intimidating surroundings of Tianhe stadium but any glimmer of a gaining an unexpected away result was all but rendered impossible within three minutes of play when the first of two red cards was brandished to an Eastern player.
All the preparation, tactical analysis and graft leading up to the match would now be rendered pretty much worthless as Eastern now had their backs to the walls for the remaining 87 minutes plus of the game. The underdogs would not have their moment in the limelight, at least for this tie. Evergrande had the impetus to press even further and the end result was Eastern desperately defending with their backs to the wall to keep the scoreline down. In the end, Eastern did well to keep the score to 7-0 with some excellent goal keeping from Yapp Hung Fai.
For all the talk of the match up between Chan Yuen Ting and Luiz Felipe Scholari as the main focal point, it was more important to acknowledge the fact that this was Hong Kong’s first foray into the Asian Champions league group stages; a landmark for the Hong Kong sports.
The Importance of Asian Champions League Participation
On the eve of the actual game, HKFA chief Executive, Mark Sutcliffe, stressed the importance of Hong Kong clubs just having the chance to partake as a real sign of progress for Hong Kong professional football:
“The media will no doubt focus on the ‘David and Goliath’ nature of this match coupled to the novelty of ‘Beef ball’ v Scholari and the fact that it is the first time ever that a female coach has participated in a regional competition. However, I prefer to focus on the fact that this is the first time that a team from Hong Kong has qualified for the group stage of the AFC Champions league”
Sutcliffe went on to state:
“When I first came to Hong Kong and said that we wanted to introduce a club licence based on AFC Champions league criteria so that our clubs could participate in the champions league, I was told that it would never happen. Well it has happened and whatever the result tonight, it is evidence that Hong Kong football is improving. Participation at this level is a stepping stone to bigger and better things and that is what matters most to me.”
Eastern set up in defensive fashion with a solid 4-5-1 base in order to counter act Evergrande’s wealth of attacking talent. Though, the best laid plans are often disrupted and Wong Tsz Ho’s lunging handball on the line, early in the game, saw him sent off and the flow of the game would now only be one way. Ricardo Goulart slotted home his penalty and Goulart would be a threat throughout the game as he tormented and teased with his incisive passes; his cross turned shot in the 7th minute was spilled by Yapp who would have a very busy night. Yapp was initially a little shaken at the start of the game as he spilled a cross or two which he would normally have comfortably taken. Douglas, of Evergrande, had many chances earlier on but his finishing let him down; a rare Eastern foray into the Evergrande box saw Lee Hong Lim make a darting run from the wing but it came to nothing; Zeng Cheng in the Evergrande goal was reduced to being a mere spectator in the first half.
Set pieces from Evergrande posed a constant threat and from a corner, Paulinho flicked on a header which was well saved by Yapp but fell to Wang Shangyuan to score in the 22nd minute. Glorious interplay saw a pass from Zheng Zhi to Goulart who laid on the ball for Liao Lisheng to score the third. The game was over before it had even started and Eastern’s nightmare debut was made worse by Wong Chi Chung getting his second yellow card of the night to reduce Eastern to nine men and the resulting penalty from Alan was saved by Yapp. Manuel Bleda had a scuffed shot in the 40th minute but that was the only Eastern highlight in the first half. Alan continued to try this luck and Yapp continued to deny him in the first half.
Being a ‘fly on the wall’ in the Eastern changing room at half time would have been interesting as Chan Yuen Ting would have had to motivate her decimated Eastern team to keep playing for pride. Unfortunately, Evergrande did not let up in their chase for goals for a better group goal difference. Gao Lin played a predominate role in the early parts of the second half and Evergrande rounded off the night with strikes from Liao Lisheng (47’), Alan (65’), Paulinho (82’) and Wang Shangyuan again (84’). The score would have been higher if not for heroic and resolute defending from players such as Josh Mitchell, Roberto and Tsang Kam To who ran themselves into the ground; in-fact Eastern players keep persisting and did well given the circumstances. A debut to forget though Eastern will know that they can only improve from this tactically and emotionally.
For all the talk of Hong Kong club teams joining the Chinese leagues, it is clear that there is a gap both in terms of standard of play and financially and there is a fear that this gap can only widened further unless SAR clubs can step up both financially and professionally; not just in terms of play but how clubs are run from everything from facilities to fitness to commercialism.
Would the game have been more equal if it was 11 against 11? It is hard to speculate but the return game at the narrow confines of Mong Kok stadium will see if Eastern will have have progressed on from this harsh lesson. After the ticketing chaos at Tianhe regarding the ‘filler’ Eastern fans; lets hope the crowd is properly segregated and that loyal Eastern fans will be able to cheer their heroes properly against Evergrande. The return game will again see the eyes of the world focussed on Hong Kong and lets see if sports prevails over all else this time. Chan Yuen Ting and Scolari will do battle again and hopefully, Eastern will be able to show what they and Hong Kong football are truly capable of. A rude awakening but everyone has to start from somewhere and Eastern can only progress.
Eastern to face Kawaski Frontale in Match Day 2 of Asian Champion League
Eastern will have to recover from this defeat to face yet another tough challenge in the face of J-Leaguers, Kawasaki Frontale on March 1st at Mong Kok stadium. The J League side will pose yet another daunting task for Eastern though Mong Kok stadium with its narrow pitch and frenzied atmosphere could give Eastern the advantage they need. Frontale will be looking to build on their 1-1 draw with Group G rivals Suwon Bluewings and take all three points.
Kawasaki Frontale are under a new regime and management after Toru Oniki was promoted within the club to take the reigns and the former midfielder will be relishing his chance build upon the great work carried out by former manager, Yahara Kazama. The latter led Frontale to a third- place finish in the combined standings of the J1 League last season so ensuring ACL football. Kawasaki have a solid ACL record and have appeared in the AFC Champions League on four previous occasions with their best results being achieved in 2007 and 2009 when they reached the quarter final rounds. Frontale have a strong Brazilian base with Elsinho, Rhayner and Educardo Neto all proving to be both an attacking threat and the bulk of their foreign contingent along with South Korean goalkeeper, Jung- Sung- Ryong
Kawasaki Frontale are used to the pristine pitches and technologically advanced stadiums of the J-League so the small and imposing Mong Kok could be a form of culture shock for them which Eastern will seek to take advantage of.
Photos: Asian Football Confederation (Including Lead Photo)