Kitchee's AFC Cup campaign came to an abrupt end after they were well beaten by visitors Arema of Indonesia 2-0 in the round of 16 match at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground last night.
The Hong Kong champions had held high hopes of performing well in the regional cup tie after finishing first in their group, earning home ground advantage against Arema, who came second in their group and qualified for the knockout stage only through a better goal difference over two other clubs.
But the result turned out to be a match Kitchee would rather forget as they could do little against a solid and speedy Arema defence.
Although Kitchee coach Josep Gombau said they had more possession even when they were one goal down, the quality of both of the Hong Kong club's attack and defence lagged behind their opponents.
In front of a strong 2,856 crowd where only a small number of Indonesian supporters could be seen, Putut Jati scored in each half to keep the Indonesians happy, taking Arema into the quarter-final stage, the first in their club history.
'We have learnt a great lesson against a team who appeared stronger than any club we have met in domestic competitions,' said Gombau, who led Kitchee to their second league championship in a row last week.
'In a local game, we can always keep the ball and wait for chances, but it wasn't the case tonight.
'If we want to improve in next year's AFC Cup, which we are eligible to play again as the league champions, we have to play more games at this level so that we can be better and stronger facing our Asian counterparts,' said Gombau.
Indeed, Arema, managed by former Kitchee coach Dejan Antonic, gave away few scoring opportunities, with their resolute defence, led by their reliable goalkeeper Deniss Romanovs from Latvia, providing stiff resistance.
'We were technically the better side. I know Kitchee very well,' said the Serbian with a smile, who was coach of Kitchee from 2005 to 2008 and was with Tuen Mun this season until he left Hong Kong in December because of personal reasons.
'Our players worked very hard over the last couple of months and physically and mentally, they performed very well today.'
Gombau hoped the defeat would not affect the players' morale as they prepare to meet TSW Pegasus in the FA Cup final on Saturday. A victory will give Kitchee a record domestic treble.
'This is not the desirable result we had come to expect, but we have to get over it and soldier on, and not dwell on it when we start training again tomorrow to prepare for Saturday's final,' he said.
The year in which Dejan Antonic was last coach of Hong Kong champions Kitchee