Courageous Citizen kiss AFC Cup hopes goodbye
A brave Citizen bid farewell to the AFC Cup following a disappointing 2-1 home defeat to visitors Home United of Singapore in group G at Mong Kok Stadium last night.
The home side, who needed a victory to keep their hopes alive, were within reach of the required result until conceding a goal with only 13 minutes left.
Fullback Sham Kwok-fai gave Citizen a convincing start in front of the 1,400 fans when he was free to beat the Home United goalkeeper following a neat pass from teammate So Loi-keung in the 17th minute.
They maintained their hopes until the 77th minute when the opposing side's French forward Frederic Mendy hit a lucky goal to level the score.
A half clearance from Citizen centre half Helio Goncalves inside the penalty box saw the ball drop into the path of the French striker, who made no mistake to put the score back on equal terms.
Citizen had little option, but to go into attack mode after the equaliser. They came close to turning the tables on Home United with two clear-cut chances. The first came in second half substitute Paulo Carreiro's powerful header following a corner kick, which was denied by the crossbar. Another unsuccessful attempt quickly followed when forward Yuto Nakamura hit the post from close range.
Clovis Anzite-Touadere then sealed the victory for the visitors with an easy shot in stoppage time against an empty Citizen half.
Despite one round left with an away match against Yangon United of Myanmar, Citizen, who are now on four points after five matches, already have no hope of catching Chonburi of Thailand. The Thai side are leading the group with 11 points after defeating Yangon United 1-0 in another match last night, while the Singaporeans are also in a secure second place after the win with 10 points.
The top two teams of the group stages will advance to the round of 16 where a knockout format will be introduced.
'The result is very disappointing as the boys put in some great effort throughout the match,' said Calvin Pui Ho-wang, executive director of Citizen. 'We came very close as we were leading most of the time, but just couldn't hang in there till the end.
'We also had two great opportunities after the score was levelled at 1-all, but some poor finishing cost us dearly. Nonetheless, it has been a rewarding tournament as no one would have expected us to still have qualifying hopes with one round left. The experience against those better Asian counterparts have certainly improved us, which can be used in future regional events or domestic competitions.'
Pui said that compared with their first match against Home United when they lost 3-1 in Singapore two months ago, they had improved. 'This is the first time we have made it to the AFC Cup and there should be a better Citizen when we play the tournament in the future,' he said.
Against Yangon United in their last group match in two weeks, Pui said they would do their best to finish the tournament in winning style. 'We have yet to collect a single point in our first two away matches, and now we should be looking forward to it against Yangon United,' he said.
Meanwhile, another Hong Kong side, Kitchee need just one point against home team Tampines Rovers of Singapore in group F tonight in order to reach the round of 16. The Hong Kong champions are leading the group with nine points, three ahead of Terengganu of Malaysia, who face Vietnam's Song Lam Nghe An in the other match tonight.