Tarres double ensures Kitchee get the job done
Kitchee got their wish granted last night - just - as spirited Malaysians Terengganu almost pulled the rug from under their feet before having to settle for a 2-2 draw in the final AFC Cup group game.
Two first-half goals from Jorge Tarres lifted the spirits of the home fans at Tseung Kwan O sports ground, but Kitchee twice let the lead slip. Yet the result was still enough for them to top the group, thus earning home-ground advantage in the one-legged round of 16, where they will come up against Indonesia's Arema. That was always Kitchee's target.
They didn't quite hit it in style as sloppy defending cost them two goals, and that left a small grey cloud hanging ominously over the club, perhaps signaling that cracks are starting to appear at a most crucial period in their season.
But with Kitchee in the FA Cup semi-finals, one match away from retaining their league title, and now in the last 16 of the AFC Cup, it was no surprise that club president Ken Ng Kin refused to be downhearted.
'If somebody had told me before that we would finish top of our group after six games, I would have taken it. Yes, we made one defensive mistake and then conceded a penalty, but all in all it was a good performance,' Ng said.
His view was echoed by coach Josep Gombau. He said: 'We are happy. Our objective was to finish top of our group and we have achieved it. The most important thing is that we are still alive in the AFC Cup and playing our next game at home will help us a bit.'
Nicknamed the turtles, Terengganu were more like the teenage mutant ninja type as they harried Kitchee all the way.
A patient passage of play in the opening minutes led to Kitchee drawing first blood. After 15 passes Lo Kwan-yee found Tarres in the box with a perfect cross and the striker headed powerfully into the top right-hand corner.
That goal, in the ninth minute, seemed to infuse some swagger into Kitchee as they toyed with the opposition defence. But the dangers of trying to do too much with the ball struck home hard when Malaysian left-winger Zubir Azmi intercepted one pass too many.
He sped down the left flank and an exchange of passes with centre-forward Mohamad Samsudin resulted in the latter slotting past an off-balance goalie Wang Zhenpeng to equalise in the 15th minute.
Tarres gave Kitchee the advantage once again just on halftime, when he received a good through ball from Chan Man-fai and scooped the ball over Terengganu goalie Shamriza Yusoff.
But the euphoria in a noisy crowd fans soon dissipated when Terengganu again caught Kitchee off-guard with a quick counter-attack which led to Fernando Recio hauling down Abdul Yahaya just inside the box. Yahaya converted the penalty and the match was deadlocked again.
'The players were unhappy that they couldn't win, but they must realise they have done well when looking at the overall picture,' Ng said. 'We are in first place in the domestic competition, in the FA Cup and also still progressing in the AFC Cup.'
Their next date in the AFC Cup will be on May 23 when they host Arema, who pulled off a stunning upset by finishing runners-up in group H after picking up just one point from their opening four games.
Ng and Gombau are hoping by then Kitchee will have won the league and be in the FA Cup final. 'We want to keep going in the AFC Cup. But winning the league takes prime importance now to earn a berth in next year's event,' added Ng.