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AFC Champions League

Five things to look out for when Kitchee take on Jeonbuk Hyundai in the AFC Champions League

Hong Kong champions prepare to make history when they host their first Champions League match against South Korean giants

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 3:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 1:14pm

Hong Kong Premier League leaders Kitchee play the biggest game in the club’s history tomorrow night when they host their first AFC Champions League group game.

South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are the visitors to Hong Kong Stadium and they present the sternest of tests for the hosts.

While Kitchee’s record is one game and one loss at this level, Jeonbuk are continental royalty – twice winners of the trophy, runners-up once and regular visitors to the latter stages.

Do Kitchee stand a chance and where might they excel?

We cast our eye over the game and pick five things to look out for.

How will Kitchee approach the game?

Kitchee’s debut ended in a 3-0 win for Tianjin Quanjian and many felt it could have been more for the Chinese Super League side.

The goals came during a seven-minute spell in the first half and it was all over by half-time. A combination of failing to clear the ball far enough, susceptibility to crosses and an unfortunate own goal conspired to give the game away rather cheaply after a largely untroubled opening half-hour.

The optimist might say that Kitchee were unlucky, the pessimist would argue that Tianjin could have scored more. While the truth is somewhere in between, the question is do Kitchee stick or twist?

Critics pointed out that they were too attacking in wider areas in northern China, which Tianjin exploited. Jeonbuk are a better team so they need to get their approach right – sitting narrow and looking to exploit any opportunity to counter.

Will Jeonbuk rest players?

The K-League champions have a wealth of talent as you’d expect from the most successful club in the K-League and its biggest spending. This summer they signed Adriano from Chinese Super League side Shijiazhuang Everbright – the Brazilian was the AFCCL top-scorer in 2016 with 13 in 11 games for FC Seoul – and promising South Korean playmaker Son Jun-ho from Pohang Steelers. Those two join a squad that won the league by nine points last season and includes seven of the South Korea national side.

Jeonbuk also have the league’s MVP Lee Jae-sung and K-League Young Player of the Year, Kim Min-jae. As witnessed last week from the bench, they can still rely on veteran Lee Dong-gook, who has a Champions League goalscoring record of 34 goals in 58 games, making him the competition’s top scorer.

With their league campaign yet to kick-off, three points on the board and more than enough at their disposal to see off Kitchee, might this be the game where they opt to rest some of their stars?

Will there be home field advantage at Hong Kong Stadium?

Forlan fever has seen Kitchee swap Mong Kok Stadium for Hong Kong Stadium and the club is hopeful that they will sell-out the 40,000 capacity ground.

That would be around the same as the highest league attendance Jeonbuk managed in their 42,000 Jeonbuk World Cup Stadium last season and double their league average. Tuesday’s crowd will be a far cry from the 6,700 capacity at in Mong Kok – and it could make all the difference.

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Can Kitchee catch the Koreans cold?

Jeonbuk’s continental campaign could have begun so differently on their return to the Champions League after serving a year ban for match fixing. They were 2-0 down at home to J-League side Kashiwa Resyol last week before a comeback win sealed at the last by local legend Lee. Jeonbuk’s three goals came from 14 shots, seven of which were on target.

The positives for Kitchee are that the goals the Koreans conceded came from long balls in behind the right back and goalkeeping errors from Heong Jong-nam – the first a rash rush from his line to be lobbed by Ramon Lopes and the second showing weak hands to palm the ball to Kashiwa’s Ataru Esaka.

If Kitchee stand a chance then they will have to start as quickly as Kashiwa and hope they can hang on.

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Can Kitchee score?

In stark contrast to their free-scoring form in the Hong Kong Premier League, Kitchee did not trouble Zhang Lu in the Tianjin goal last time out and that is something they will need to rectify on Tuesday. Three efforts, none on target, will not be enough against one of the best teams in Asia.

More shots would be a start. Earning a few free kicks around the edge of the box for Diego Forlan would be even better.