Kitchee were crowned champions of Hong Kong again after a 1-0 win over Pegasus at Mong Kok stadium on April 13th. With only a few league rounds left, the title-winners have an unattainable lead over closet rivals Pegasus and Tai Po.
Despite having a focus on the Asian Champions League, Kitchee remain undefeated in the domestic league and are still in the running for both the FA Cup and the Sapling Cup so are on course for a treble. On the whole, it has been a successful season for Kitchee and the arrival of star name, Diego Forlan, has done much to boost the profile of the Hong Kong champions both at home and abroad.
Kitchee deserve the title and their free-flowing attacking football has gained many plaudits and fans along the way but it does ask some questions about the overall competitiveness of the Hong Kong league; unless there is some major financial investment in other teams then it seems Kitchee will win the league again next season at a canter.
The end of the domestic season will see the usual rush to secure enough professional teams for the next league season and this normally takes most of the summer as teams decide whether to continue or not. This can create a lot of instability and teams can simply appear from nowhere. This season, the newly formed side “Dreams” have navigated their first season quite well and will look to build upon this for the coming season though there are rumours long established teams like Yuen Long will return to semi-professional status. Stability and growth (financial / player development) are words not truly associated with Hong Kong football anymore and it reflects the lack of return in any financial investment in the local game. Teams like South China, once giants, are seemingly still in the throes of semi-professionalism and if Hong Kong’s most popular club are unable to rise up again in the near future then it speaks volumes for the direction the game is taking. That side, Kitchee are probably the only example of truly professionally run club in Hong Kong though without equally strong domestic challengers then then there is only so much they can grow and develop.
Kitchee’s Complete Asian Champions League Group E Fixtures
Kitchee’s continental adventure is over after a comprehensive 3-0 loss away in South Korea against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC. The result leaves Kitchee at the bottom of group E but the team picked up the momentum in their last few match days and achieved a memorable win over Kashiwa Reysol and Tianjin Quanjian had to fight all the way to defeat Kitchee 1-0 at Mong Kok. As Hong Kong have now lost their automatic group spot in the Asian Champions league, it could be a while before see Hong Kong fans see top level football return to Hong Kong.
K League and South Korean football expert, Matthew Binns, watched the Kitchee away game and stated that Kitchee had improved and stressed that Kitchee defended well given Jeonbuk’s striking power and current dominance of the K League.
“It took Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors just over seventy minutes and the use of all three of their substitutes to finally break Kitchee’s resolve in the end. The visiting Hong Kong champions had matched their opponents up until that point, relentlessly closing down Jeonbuk players with the ball, forcing misplaced passes and preventing the home side from finding their usual rhythm. Considering the gulf between these two sides back in February, where Kitchee lost in front of their own crowd 6-0, this was a much improved showing against the group leaders. Kitchee were not facing a weakened squad either, even though their own ranks were somewhat depleted through injury. Jeonbuk fielded a surprisingly strong eleven considering they had already qualified for the knockout rounds. With a point needed to avoid facing CSL heavyweights Guangzhou Evergrande though, the Korean side looked as if they were taking no chances.”
“Once substitute Lee Seung-gi broke the deadlock though, tucking away fellow bench warmer Kim Shin-wook’s glanced down header, then Kitchee never really looked like getting back into the match. Jeonbuk’s third substitute Lim Sun-young also assisted Kim Shin-wook before Kim reversed the favour to make it three.”
“It served to exemplify the strength in depth the K League side currently boasts at present. With all credit to Kitchee, other teams in both the Korean league and the AFC group have also tried and failed to contain Jeonbuk’s attacking talent this year, with some coming nowhere near as close to an upset as the Hong Kong outfit has done. Kitchee may feel disheartened by the magnitude of the scoreline, but for the majority of the match they held a side who is in genuine contention to lift the trophy this year.”
Kitchee’s Asian Champions League exploits have given them valuable experience on how to compete with the top teams in Asia and will prove to be valuable for next season when they enter the Asian Champions league qualifiers. This marks a watershed moment for Hong Kong football and Kitchee themselves who have dominated the domestic scene yet the step up to the Asian Champions league has proven to be a steep learning curve and if they do not qualify for the group stage next season, then all the lessons from this season’s campaign may not be placed into practice at a higher standard.
Next season, as champions, Kitchee have to play in the Asian Champions league qualifiers. If Kitchee are successful it will be a bonus for fans to see more of the best teams in the Asia-Pacific compete in Hong Kong; if results do not go their way then Kitchee will enter the AFC Cup and actually would be strong contenders for the AFC Cup due to their experiences this season. Kitchee reached the semi-finals in 2014 so would seeks to go one better and win the competition.
Photo highlights from Kitchee’s first game against Jeonbuk below. Photos by Ryan Kam.
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