Kitchee reach AFC Cup semi-finals despite second-leg loss to Vissai Ninh Binh
Kitchee scraped into the AFC Cup semi-finals on Tuesday after Vietnamese visitors Vissai Ninh Binh missed a host of chances to come from behind and secure a victory on aggregate in the second leg of their quarter-final at Mong Kok Stadium.
Despite a 4-2 home defeat just a week ago, Ninh Binh were in command for most of the return leg but managed only a 1-0 victory as Kitchee became the third Hong Kong team to reach the penultimate stage of the regional cup competition after Sun Hei (2005) and South China (2009).
Towering striker Suleiman Oladoja, who was a constant threat to the Kitchee defence, scored midway through the first half and should have added to the tally in first-half stoppage time. His shot beat Kitchee goalkeeper Wang Zhenpang but bounced off the bottom of the crossbar before being retrieved by the keeper.
Ninh Binh, who needed a 3-0 score to beat the Hong Kong champions on aggregate, had another striker, Uwanaka Ifeanyi, miss a clear-cut chance in the second half, while Jorge Tarres also failed to score for the home side with only the goalkeeper to beat with 10 minutes left.
Kitchee coach Jose Molina was a relieved man after the match, saying he was unhappy with the way they played in the first half.
“I didn’t like the game in the first half because we did not play well,” said the Spaniard. “The goalkeeper did a good job to save us. In the second half, we played better, creating some good chances, but Ninh Binh deserved the victory.”
With the reliable centreback Fernando Recio pushing to midfield to take up the position left by suspended Huang Yang, Kitchee’s defence was under pressure from Ninh Binh from the beginning.
Youngster Tsang Chi-hau, who teamed up with Jang Kyung-jin in central defence, struggled to stop the visitors and the two fullbacks were tested repeatedly by the speedy Ninh Binh flankers.
Molina was forced to pull Recio back to central defence after the break while Tsang was moved to left back. The move seemed to work well as the second half was closely contested.
Ninh Binh head coach Nguyen Van Sy was pleased with the way his side played. “We were very active and our players were able to correct the mistakes we committed in the first half,” he said. “Today we fought hard with a 110 per cent effort but unfortunately we missed so many chances.”
Ninn Binh, who have been involved in a match-fixing scandal back home, were rumoured to face disbandment after their elimination from the AFC Cup, but Nguyen remained tight-lipped.
“We will go back to Vietnam to have a meeting with the president and then should know the future of the team,” he said.
Kitchee captain Lo Kwan-yee admitted they had to improve if they wanted to be the first team from Hong Kong to reach the AFC Cup final.
“Our defence had some problems in the first half but we corrected them in time,” said Lo. “The semi-finals will be more demanding and difficult but the team has been improving in the AFC Cup over the last couple of years and we are confident we can do it.”