Kitchee became only the third team from Hong Kong to reach the AFC Cup quarter-finals after upsetting hosts Kelantan of Malaysia 2-0 in the round of 16 at Sultan Mohammad IV Stadium in Kota Bharu last night.
Having finished group E in second place, the Hong Kong FA Cup champions had to play away against the group G winners in a one-off tie. Although the visitors were pinned in defence for most of the 90 minutes, two goals in the first half confirmed their place in the last eight, which will be played in September.
"We are celebrating our 10th year back in the First Division of Hong Kong soccer and this result is yet another reason for us to rejoice," said a delighted Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin. "We played a good first half and were able to protect our lead well in the second period.
"The quarter-finals will not start until the new [Hong Kong] season and we have to wait for the arrival of our new coach before we start planning for the next stage. In the meantime, our focus will be on the [four-team domestic] play-offs, so we can compete in the AFC Cup next year, too."
Sun Hei and South China are the two other Hong Kong teams to have previously reached the quarter-finals of the regional competition.
Kitchee had to thank Kelantan centre-half Lek Kcira for going into the lead after 15 minutes. Zeshan Rehman picked up Lo Kwan-yee on the right to cross in and Croatian defender Kcira, who was under pressure from Kitchee striker Pablo Gonzalez, miskicked the ball into his own net.
Kelantan dominated possession as they searched for an equaliser, but most of their efforts were in vain due to poor finishing. Just before half-time, Spaniard Jorge Tarres scored his 11th goal of the tournament after meeting an inch-perfect cross from left-back Cheung Kin-fung. The striker has scored in each of Kitchee's AFC Cup matches so far.
"Tarres' goal was crucial as it gave us a strong cushion for the second half," said Ng.
Although Kelantan's Nigerian striker Dickson Nwakaeme always remained dangerous up front, the hosts failed to break down a stubborn Kitchee defence. They did find the net twice, but both efforts were disallowed due to offside.