Eastern to face Guangzhou Evergrande in 2017 AFC Champions League
Hong Kong champions will take on the two-time champions as they make their debut in the top-tier regional competition with coach Chan Yuen-ting given an extremely tough initiation
Eastern could not have asked for a more difficult match-up in their introduction to the 2017 AFC Champions League: they will play two-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
After all that was said and done leading up to Tuesday’s draw in Kuala Lumpur regarding the Hong Kong champions off and then on again entry into Asia’s top-tier competition, the local side were given one of the toughest assignments they could have hoped for in the shape of the six-time Chinese Super League champions.
Eastern had originally said they were not going to compete in the competition because they didn’t have the finances but then changed their mind, drawing rivals Kitchee, Southorn and the Hong Kong Football Association into a bitter war of words as to who was to blame for the eligibility fiasco.
Now Eastern will have to contend with one of the continent’s regional powers after being drawn in group G, which also features Suwon Samsung Bluewings of South Korea and a team from Japan which will be decided after the Emperors' Cup final on January 1.
Kitchee, the Playoff Cup winners, are also in the competition but must start in the second round of the qualifiers. They must beat visitors Hanoi T&T of Vietnam on January 31 before they travel to South Korea to meet Jeju United for a place in the main draw. Kitchee want the match postponed to February 1 as the date clashes with the Lunar New Year Cup final.
It will also be a tough initiation for Eastern’s Chan Yuen-ting, the first woman coach to win a top-flight men’s soccer title last season.
Chan, who has won multiple accolades, including the AFC Women’s Coach of the Year award earlier this month, will have to somehow inspire Eastern to pull off the improbable as she goes head-to-head with her counterpart, World Cup-winning Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Eastern’s draw with Guangzhou Evergrande – looking for their third continental title in five years – could evoke more anti-Chinese sentiment as it did during last year’s World Cup Asian zone qualifiers when Hong Kong drew both games against “big brother” China. Guangzhou Evergrande contain a number of China internationals.
But Eastern executive director Peter Leung Shou-chi played down the rivalry, saying the World Cup qualifiers were long over and the players would be focused at the task at hand.
“It’s all history [World Cup] and I don’t think there will be any hard feelings when the players meet again,” said Leung, who is in Thailand with his team on a training camp.
“This is going to be our first Champions League appearance and I am sure there will be sufficient motivation for the players. Guangzhou are a classy side in the region as well. The two other clubs from South Korea and Japan will also be tough and it will be a big learning experience for Eastern.”
Despite the tough draw, Leung said they had no plans to secure additional players during the forthcoming winter transfer window. They have recently signed former Hong Kong international Ng Wai-chiu after the defender completed his contract with China League One side Tianjin.
Eastern want to play their home games at the 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium and Leung said they would discuss arrangements with the Football Association.
2017 AFC Champions League draw
Group A: Al Ahli FC (UAE), PFC Lokomotiv (UZB), Al Taawoun (KSA), Playoff winner
Group B: Esteghlal Khouzestan FC (IRN), Al Jazira (UAE), Lekhwiya SC (QAT), Playoff winner
Group C: Al Ahli Saudi FC (KSA), Zobahan FC (IRN), Al Ain FC (UAE), Playoff winner
Group D: Al Rayyan SC (QAT), Al Hilal SFC (KSA), Persepolis FC (IRN), Playoff winner
Group E: Kashima Antlers (JPN), Muangthong United (THA), Playoff winner, Playoff winner.
Group F: FC Seoul (KOR), Japan 2nd Club (JPN), Western Sydney Wanderers (AUS), Playoff winner
Group G: Guangzhou Evergrande FC (CHN), Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR), still-undetermined Japan Club, Eastern SC (HKG)
Group H: Adelaide United (AUS), Jiangsu FC (CHN), Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (KOR), Playoff winner