High-flying Kitchee are determined to extend their love affair with the AFC Cup, and that will hinge a great deal on the outcome of tonight's final group encounter against Terengganu of Malaysia at Tseung Kwan O.
Thoughts of winning the Hong Kong First Division League have been put aside momentarily as Kitchee focus on defeating Terengganu to clinch a vital advantage when the round of 16 begins.
'This is a crucial game. If we win, or even draw, it will see us finish first and enable us to get home-ground advantage in the next round,' said Kitchee coach Josep Gombau. 'While playing at home and in front of our fans will be huge, we will also meet the second-best team from group H in the last 16, which is another reason to top our pool.'
Malaysia's Kelantan, Navibank Saigon of Vietnam and Ayeyawady United from Myanmar are fighting it out for the top two slots in group H.
Kitchee top their preliminary round group E with 10 points and have already secured their last-16 berth. But if Terengganu win tonight, they will top the pool.
However, everything points to a Kitchee win. The Hong Kong league leaders won the away game 2-0, and playing at home will give them extra impetus.
'Every game is different,' a wary Gombau said. 'Of course we expect to win, but victory won't come unless we work hard. Our aim is to reach the latter stages of the AFC Cup, and everyone knows how important a win is for our campaign.'
Kitchee will be at full strength, with Gombau signalling his intent by starting with top strike Jorge Tarres and a number of other senior players.
'I won't be holding anything back. We will play our best side. The Hong Kong league decider is more than 10 days away so the players will have time to recover. What matters right now is the AFC Cup,' he said.
Kitchee top the local league standings by one point from TSW Pegasus with one match to play.