After all the hype and build up to Kitchee’s home debut in the Asian Champions League group stages, the K-league’s Jeonbok Hyundai Motors ruined the party by taking apart a nervous Hong Kong team with a 6-0 thrashing
A bumper crowd (despite ticketing issues at the box office) at Hong Kong stadium had come out to see if Kitchee could bounce back from their opening defeat away to Tiajian Quanjian yet for all those in attendance, it soon became clear that Hong Kong football could not compete at the highest levels of the Asian game as Jeonbuk, who rotated their side and changed their formation, were simply a class apart.
AFC Champions League Group E
Jeonbok Hyundai Motors 6
Adriano ‘6, ’14, ’45+1
Kim Jin-Su ’25
Lee Dong Guk ’90+3
The loss all but guarantees Kitchee’s elimination from the competition as the Hong Kong side are still pointless without a goal in their favour. Kitchee have been banking on superstar Diego Forlan to both spearhead their attack and to also draw in the fans and there was a lot of expectation on his shoulders. For all his classy touches and short passing game, aside from an early chance in the first half when he pulled a shot wide and a free-kick on target, Forlan did not make the impact that was expected. Kitchee were the home team yet had no composure on the ball, constantly gave the ball away and were often punished for lapses in concentration in defence.
Kitchee’s and manager Alex Chu’s game plan of packing the midfield and launching counter-attacks was ruined from the 5th minute onwards when a foul by Lo Kwan Yee opened the way to the first of Adriano’s goals in a night when he bagged a hat-trick (including two penalties). Further goals in the first half including a belter from Kim-Jin Su and another by Tiago Alves meant that Kitchee were 5-0 down at half time with a mountain to climb. South Korean legend Lee Dong Guk killed off the game in the second half.
Kitchee never gave up and each time they conceded a goal, they kept on battling on yet were found wanting when facing a organized Jeonbok side who could comfortably pass both short and long. The visitors were comfortable winners and will seek to progress from the group whilst Kitchee will have a long hard look at this result and try and build on from here. Too good for Hong Kong yet not competitive at the highest level, this shows the decline of the Hong Kong game compared to their Asian counterparts.
Matthew Binns, K-League and South Korean football expert from K League United shared his expert views on the game.
“I thought Jeonbuk would win given the gulf between the two sides, but the scoreline was certainly beyond my expectations. Not only did Jeonbuk’s line up on paper look weaker than usual, I also expected a reactionary performance from Kitchee after their 3-0 defeat to Tianjin Quanjian, especially as they were playing on home soil. Therefore, the manner of the Korean side’s win was very welcome to fans indeed.”
Binns also mentioned who he thought was the most impressive Jeonbuk player on the night when all the players put on a great show.
“Despite two of his three goals coming from the penalty spot, I have to say Adriano impressed me the most. Whilst it seems obvious given his name reoccurring on the scoresheet, this was his first match in Jeonbuk colours (including pre-season), and he certainly did not look out of place. The Brazilian striker will surely get better with increased playing time, meaning there will hopefully be more to come in the near future. I would also like to highlight goalkeeper Song Beom-keun. While he may not have had a lot to do in the grand scheme of things, the Korea U20 was making his professional debut against Kitchee and looked confident enough on the few times he was called upon. The goalkeeper is a new arrival in Jeonju, having featured in the U20 World Cup for his country last summer. It was good to see him have a solid debut and he looks set to feature more regularly, especially given the recent doubts raised about first choice ‘keeper Hong Jeong-Nam.”
Binns also commented on whether or not this resounding win would give Jeonbuk the confidence to start the K league well.
“Given Jeonbuk’s interrupted pre-season due to an unnecessary Korean national team training camp, where seven first team players were called upon to represent their country, these last two Champions League matches have almost been like pre-season in terms of the actual side finally getting time to play together. If the confidence was not high after turning around a 2-0 deficit to defeat Kashiwa Reysol, having Adriano and Tiago make the scoresheet should boost the side’s confidence and also relieve the club’s new signings of burden going into the first league match against Ulsan Hyundai on March 1st. Having six points in the group at this stage is also vital as it means Jeonbuk can focus on making sure they get the best possible start in the K League, knowing they are in poll position to qualify for the knockout rounds in the Champions League. The same cannot be said for all of their title rivals at the moment, which Jeonbuk should look to capitalise on as their domestic campaign gets underway.”
Hong Kong football writer JRP Borthwick also commented on the game as a spectacle as Kitchee showed strong spirit in the second half to keep on battling despite the game being over.
“I think in the first half when the game was alive, I think the South Koreans came out and they really showed a lot of their class and they took their chances. I think in the second half, perhaps, when the game was done and dusted, the South Koreans thought the job was done but it was a different Kitchee team which came out in the second half and the game was a lot more interesting and as a spectacle, it was very interesting to watch.”
The draw of Diego Forlan helped to push up the attendance figures and this drew some sports fans to the game to experience the big match atmosphere. One such fan was Argus Lau, who was attending his first live soccer match at Hong Kong stadium.
“I thought the second half was better and there must have been a great half time motivational speech because it was a different team (Kitchee) that came out and they were trying a lot harder and it made watching the game a lot better.”
Another football fan, Tarik El-Mahmoud, a Lebanese restaurateur based in Hong Kong, thought that the Jeonbuk side had more desire and drive to win compared to Kitchee’s players.
“Jeonbuk of South Korea were just the team who were more determined to win but Kitchee, the Hong Kong side, wasn’t enthusiastic enough. You could see that they were not putting in their one hundred percent effort.”
The Asian Champions League has proven to be a mountain to high for Kitchee to climb and the gap in standards, in terms of passing, tempo and tactics, has been too apparent in their last two group games. As we are still in the early stages of the group games, Kitchee will look to re-organize themselves and gain some respect and at least gain some points from draws and score some goals along the way. On the upside, Kitchee have some fervent fans and they kept singing and chanting until the very end.
With Hong Kong set to lose their automatic Asian Champions league spot, it could be a long long time before we see such glamorous sides come to Hong Kong again. What a shame that Hong Kong football, in front of an television audience of millions, could not at least be competitive and showcase Hong Kong football in a positive way.