Measles takes the blame as Kitchee are held to a draw in AFC Cup match against Indian side Pune FC
Coach Chu fears infection could spread to other squad members after disease robs them of key players in AFC Cup crunch against Pune FC
A suspected outbreak of German measles in the Kitchee camp took the blame after the Hong Kong side were held to a 2-2 draw by Indian side Pune FC in their AFC Cup group H match at Mong Kok Stadium on Wednesday night.
After starting the regional cup campaign convincingly with a 5-0 thrashing of Singapore's Tampines Rovers two weeks ago, Kitchee failed to maintain their momentum. Key striker Jorge Tarres was a non-starter after being hit by the apparent outbreak of measles. Measles is a common disease among children and its effects are usually mild, although they tend to be stronger among adults.
Defensive midfielder Fernando Recio, possibly the most impressive player on the home team, scored the opening goal for Kitchee before being taken off at half-time.
"He [Recio] told me during the break he could not continue as he had developed a rash on his face and neck," said head coach Chu Chi-kwong. "Already we were missing Jorge Tarres up front as he contracted German rubella [measles] after the practice session on Tuesday and when Recio presented similar symptoms, we had to replace him. We are concerned that it may spread among our Spanish players as they are a tight-knit group on and off the field.
"As far as the result is concerned, failing to collect three points in a home game is a bit disappointing, although we are still confident of reaching the next stage."
Facing a demanding schedule of four games in 11 days, Kitchee adopted a player rotation system, with fullback Tsang Kam-to, centrehalf Tsang Chi-hau and leftback Cheung Kin-fung taking turns in the roster.
With the support of a strong 1,800 crowd, Kitchee pressed hard from the first minute and were rewarded with two goals in the first half. Recio opened the scoring midway through the first half after sending the ball home following a neat one-two with fellow Spaniard Juan Belencoso.
Striker Belencoso, who overcame a back muscle problem to be fit for the match, headed home a cross from Xu Deshuai just before half-time. "Some of the new faces lack the stamina for 90 minutes as their match fitness is not the best," said the coach. "Also, they wasted a lot of energy playing on a slippery surface."
Pune, who did not have any serious goal attempt in the first half, upped the tempo after the break. Second-half substitute Mirjan Pavlovic narrowed the deficit 10 minutes after the break before Gabriel Fernandes found the equaliser for the visitors in the 74th minute. "We had big problems with the wet conditions in the first half and made some changes after the break," said Pune coach Michel Snoei. "We chose to press hard like the Dutch style and it worked. Hopefully, the players have gained confidence with this match."
In group G, South China suffered their second defeat in a row following a 2-0 loss to home side Kelantan of Malaysia, having gone down 3-1 at home to Vietnam's Vissai Ninh Binh two weeks ago.