A lively and electrifying AFC Champions League group G game ended 1-1 between 9-man Kawasaki of the J-League and Hong Kong outfit Eastern who were left pondering what could have been if they had taken their few chances properly.
AFC Champions League Group G
Kawasaki Frontale 1
Kou Itakura 52′
After the methodical way that Guangzhou Evergrande defeated them in the first round of group matches, Eastern had about one week to regroup and focus on the task at hand; another game against quality opposition loomed in the form of Kawasaki Frontale of the J League. Eastern had a point to prove to their naysayers and critics who felt that their first performance was hugely disappointing. The tight and compact Mong Kok stadium would prove to be the perfect setting for Eastern to make their perfect response.
Either complacency or the need to rotate players for the start of the J League season saw Kawasaki Frontale rest nine of their first team regulars against Eastern. So big names such as Eduardo Neto and Yu Kobayashi did not start the game against Eastern. Initially, this did not seem to matter as Kawasaki totally dominated against Eastern who could barely leave their half in the early stages. The game swung dramatically in the 13th minute when Tatsuki Nara was sent off for taking down Eastern’s Bleda who was through on goal. After the red card was given, the penalty was coolly slotted home by Bleda who made history by scoring a Hong Kong club’s first goal in the ACL group stages. Eastern’s luck had swung and three vital points were on the cards.
Eastern were ahead and the packed out Mong Kok stadium crowd were in a frenzy with the Kawasaki travelling support adding to the atmosphere with their constant songs. Eastern, in theory, were in the driving seat and should have taken full advantage but were unable to score the second killer goal and Kawasaki were still able to hold onto possession well and in the 21st and 28th minutes respectfully, Miyoshi Koji and Morimoto Takayuki, had chances on goal. Eastern attempted to break forward but each attempt was thwarted or wayward passing lead to Kawasaki gaining possession again. Eastern’s Yapp was again tremendous in goal and his heroics earned the man of the match award.
Kawasaki drew level in the 52nd minute when a lobbed pass from Rhayner caused confusion in the Eastern defence and Itakura Kou reacted fastest to poke the ball home. Eastern continued to break forward and in the 56th minute, a goal mouth scramble saw Roberto’s header come off the top of the bar with subsequent shots from Bleda and Mitchell both being blocked. Josh Mitchell again had an excellent game and marshalled the defence well and also had a towering header towards goal, cleared off the line. In the 79th minute, Jaimes McKee had a golden chance to score the winner though he did not connect properly and his header did not trouble the goalkeeper.
The game ended in chaos with Rhayner being sent off at the end of the game so Kawasaki had 9 players left on the field. Eastern could not take advantage of this as the referee blew for full time much to the annoyance of several Eastern players who had to be calmed down by their team mates and manager Chan Yuen Ting. The Kawasaki manager, Oniki Toru, reflected on his team’s result which he deemed disappointing.
“Kawasaki were the away team and we came to win so honestly, we are quite disappointed”
He went onto reflect on losing one player and how this affected the team performance:
“We were quite nervous at the beginning and although we had one player less, the remaining players did well”
Eastern will be happy with a point though it is safe to say that they will be pondering their chances. Given the numerical advantage they possessed for a vast chunk of time, they were unable to take all three against an under strength Kawasaki side on home soil. Eastern will have time to reflect on their performance and seek to make another historical step with a win against Suwon Samsungs Bluewings from South Korea’s K-League. HKFA’s Mark Sutcliffe reflected on the positives from the home side’s performances:
“I think Eastern were a little bit unlucky not to win because they hit the bar, had a header cleared off the line and created one or two other chances. Also, Jaimes McKee had a chance towards the end of the game so arguably you could say that Eastern should have won and at the end of the day, they are playing at a much higher level. Man for man I think, on balance, many of the Japanese players are more skilled so ten against eleven on paper mathematically, they (Eastern) should have won but it was a good performance and the ability to recover from the defeat the week before also showed and Eastern started the game really strongly and created a chance in the first minute. It was a positive attitude and I thought they played well and I think, on balance, it was a good result.”
With each game, Eastern are venturing into new territory for Hong Kong football so many will be satisfied with a first ever goal and point in the ACL group stages and these can be the foundations which further success can be built on. The result leaves Eastern last in the group with one point while Kawasaki Frontale remain ahead with two.
Liverpool Legends in Hong Kong
Recently, Liverpool FC Legends Luis Garcia, Vladimir Smicer, Patrick Berger, Jason McAteer and Sami Hyypia visited LFC World Hong Kong presented by Standard Chartered. LFC legends took part in a media tour and also posed for photographs and autographs with supporters.
For Liverpool fans. LFC World is open at City Plaza from Wednesday 1st March to Sunday 5th March at Cityplaza 2/F Atrium & Centre Bridge from 12pm – 9pm each day.
Photos from Ryan Kam and Dennis Lo