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AFC Champions League

Fans fly the flag and Forlan frustrated: 10 things we learned from Kitchee’s Champions League loss to Jeonbuk

Hong Kong champs were much improved despite 6-0 scoreline and other lessons from Hong Kong Stadium

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2018, 1:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2018, 1:15pm

Just looking at the scoreline it’s clear that Kitchee were taught a lesson in their first home game in the AFC Champions League but what else did we find out from the visit of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors?

While 6-0 doesn’t make for comfortable reading, there were actually plenty of positives for the Hong Kong Premier League champions going into their next group game.

Can they build on their performance and do they stand a chance of getting their first point, or Hong Kong’s first win in the Champions League?

1. It was the right decision to move the game to Hong Kong Stadium

The crowd fell short of the 20,000 that the club’s general manager Wilson Ng Hoi-wai had predicted before the competition but a creditable 13,591 crowd proved it was the right decision to move the game from Mong Kok to the larger stadium.

The neutrals got to see a team who must be ranked among the favourites for the competition perform at their clinical best. And it appears that it attracted newcomers to the game – even if some missed the first three goals before they took their seats.

2. Coach Chu is right to see the positives – Kitchee were much improved

This was just Kitchee’s second game at this level and they played a team that were always expected to win – and win heavily at that – but coach Chu’s assessment that his team is improving with every game was correct.

Kitchee may not have scored but they threatened from the start and took the game to the South Koreans until to the very last – no mean feat when you’re 5-0 down at the restart. Kitchee were unlucky not to score their first Champions League goal, a vast difference from last week against Tianjin where they failed to muster a shot on target. If they continue to show the same effort and intent then they will find their feet before the group stage is up.

3. Kitchee were not six goals worse but mistakes will be punished

Just as last week, Kitchee were their own worst enemies. A Kitchee free kick led to the first goal with the Jeonbuk keeper’s long ball causing panic and the flick-on not dealt with. A rash challenge resulted in a penalty. The second goal came from failure to clear their lines and not picking up one of the deadliest strikers on the continent.

A sloppy pass to give up possession at halfway eventually led to the third, while the fourth was a result of not closing down the crosser. A catalogue of elementary errors saw Jeonbuk run away by half-time. It was all summed up by one Kitchee shot late on that was charged down to put Adriano directly through on goal, although he failed to score his fourth.

7' BAD MISS!Forlan is played through on goal but fires horribly wide off target. Should have at least hit the target.#KCEvJBM #ACL2018 pic.twitter.com/1zqanglRmc— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) 20 February 2018

4. A case of what might have been?

There were a couple of “sliding doors” moments before the game got away from Kitchee. Diego Forlan was played through on goal with the score at 1-0 and the crowd rose from their seats in expectation. Sadly, the Uruguayan’s first touch of note saw him snatch it wide. Then 10 or so minutes later, with the score now 2-0, Kitchee’s Fernando was brought down on the edge of the Jeonbuk area but the referee played advantage rather than bringing play back to a position where Forlan would have been expected to test the keeper. Football is a game of fine margins and Kitchee need a bit more luck.

5. Hong Kong still waiting for a first Champions League win but it could be on its way

Kitchee’s next two games come against Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol and they represent the club’s best chance to secure Hong Kong’s first ever win in the Champions League. Reysol lost their opening game away at Jeonbuk and drew at home to Tianjin on match day two.

The hosts had chances but were profligate in front of goal, missing a penalty, and were nearly beaten at the last by Tianjin’s Anthony Modeste. If they are going to get any points or even goals on the board then it will be in this double header.

6. Forlan can’t do it all alone – even if he might try to

After going MIA on match day one, Forlan was much more involved against Jeonbuk and at the heart of much of Kitchee’s better play but it was still a mixed evening for Kitchee’s star signing and make no mistake the Uruguayan is just that.

The crowd greeted his every touch with a collective intake of breath and there was an electric sense of expectation every time he got on the ball. At times his teammates looked on a different wavelength, failing to read flick-ons and one-touch passes, and he failed to capitalise on his best chance.

He showed his full range of passing in his 70 minutes, often dropping deep to act as a playmaker, but might have been guilty of trying to do too much.

Much of Kitchee’s threat comes from his dead-ball delivery. Shot once from the centre circle. Came closest trying to score direct from a corner in the first half.

7. Fernando looks comfortable at this level

The Brazilian was a surprise choice for Hong Kong’s footballer of the year when he took the honour for the 2016-17 season but on last night’s evidence he is a cut above and might attract interest from another AFC Champions League side.

Surprise as Kitchee star beats prolific teammate to Hong Kong Footballer of the Year award

The 31-year-old shouldered the burden of getting Kitchee up the pitch, always eager for the ball and constantly driving at the Jeonbuk defence. He was targeted with some extracurricular attention.

Deserved his applause when he followed Forlan off.

8. Kitchee’s fans deserve something to cheer.

The Kitchee fans were in fine voice from the outset and that continued until after the final whistle. This meant for an atmosphere the envy of many football grounds worldwide. There was a touch of gallows humour at 4-0 – “we’re going to win 5-4” was not sung in expectation – and pantomime in booing the Koreans early on and the referee after the delayed call for the second penalty.

They deserve something from the Champions League just for cheering the team on as if it was 0-0 throughout.

9. The away end was magnificent.

Jeonbuk’s small following gave as good as they got and helped to create an atmosphere that did not match the one-sided scoreline on the pitch. Much noisier than they had any right to be, they were a credit to the game, and even started to enjoy themselves by doing the Poznan at 4-0.

The away team rightly celebrated with their fans after the game. If Kitchee’s following can offer half as much in their two remaining away games then this Champions League campaign can be considered a success.

10. Kitchee’s remaining two home games are not to be missed

Aside from the chance to see history made and Kitchee back up boss Ken Ng Kin’s prediction that they would outperform Eastern in the Champions League, there will be plenty of drama in the remaining two home games.

Why Kitchee chief Ken Ng Kin could end up eating his words after taunting Eastern over their Champions League struggles

The first, against Kashiwa Reysol at Hong Kong Stadium on March 14, offers hope of victory. The second, when Tianjin Quanjian visit Mong Kok Stadium on April 4, brings the added spice that comes with the visit of a mainland side.