As AFC tries to clamp down on match-fixing, cheats Ninh Binh play on against Kitchee
Hong Kong league champions out to eliminate Vietnamese opponents, whose players admitted to match-fixing
A day after the Asian Football Confederation told regional FAs to appoint integrity officers to tackle corruption and match- fixing in the region, Hong Kong's last remaining team in the AFC Cup were drawn to face scandal-plagued Vietnamese side Vissai Ninh Binh.
Ninh Binh are still competing in the regional tournament - despite being expelled from the Vietnam domestic league after players admitted being paid to fix a match - which leaves the AFC open to accusations of inaction.
While Kitchee hope to finally end the Vietnamese team's participation at the quarter-final stage, in the top-tier Champions League, title-holders Guangzhou Evergrande will fancy their chances against first-time qualifiers Western Sydney Wanderers in the Champions League.
Ninh Binh have played two more matches since the fixing scandal, and Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin played down the controversy, insisting: "It's a pretty good draw.
"It means we can stay in the Far East for the last eight without travelling to Middle East or making a very difficult trip to Indonesia.
"And if we can overcome the Vietnamese, we may face another Vietnam team, Hanoi T&T, who meet Erbil of Iraq in the other quarter-final [in Kitchee's half of the draw].
"Our target is to overcome Ninh Binh first and then we would love to meet another Vietnamese team rather than travelling to the Middle East. If we can get through both rounds, we will have the advantage of playing the final at home."
Kitchee, who beat Arema of Indonesia 2-0 in the one-off round of 16, will travel to the north Vietnam city on August 19 before their home leg one week later at Mong Kok Stadium.
Ninh Binh took on South China in the group stage, winning 3-0 at Hong Kong Stadium.
In April, 11 of their players told police they received around 800 million dong (HK$291,000) for fixing their group match against Malaysia's Kelantan, in which they came from 2-1 down to win 3-2.
They were expelled from the V League 1, but they were allowed to continue in the AFC Cup, beating Yangon United to win group G then reaching the quarter-finals with a 4-2 win over Churchill Brothers of India.
The AFC have taken no action while "waiting for a detailed investigation report from the Vietnam Football Federation".
Ng said it was too early to look beyond the quarter-finals.
"We still have a long way to go ... We set our sights on the semi-finals and will see how far we can go from there. Our major target in the regional competition is to reach the main draw of the Asian Champions League next year."
As league champions, Kitchee will represent Hong Kong in the 2015 ACL qualifying play-offs, with three matches to reach the main draw.
"Our new coach will arrive next month before we start pre-season on July 2 and he only has limited time to know the players and improve the team by the time we resume our AFC Cup campaign. But he certainly has more time to prepare the ACL which starts next year," said Ng.
Jose Molina, a former coach of La Liga side Villarreal, joined Kitchee on a two-year contract last week. The 34-year-old played for Albacete Balompie, Atletico Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna and Levante.
He joined the Villarreal CF Academy as a coach in 2009 and during the 2011-2012 season and he was named the head coach of Villarreal. Last season, he was the second team coach of Getafe FC.
"Many of the Kitchee players have been working together over a long period and know each other's game well," said Ng.
"I am sure the arrival of a quality coach who has the experience in top tier competitions in Europe will be able to raise our standard to a level that we can compete against the top teams of the region."