Eastern earn historic first AFC Champions League point for Hong Kong – but could it have been better?
Chan Yuen-ting’s side settle for 1-1 draw with Kawasaki Frontale despite taking an early lead and having a man advantage for most of the match
Hong Kong champions Eastern created history of sorts in the AFC Champions League, earning the city its first point in the competition, but it could have – perhaps should have – been all three in a 1-1 draw with Kawasaki Frontale.
Chan Yuen-ting’s side were gifted the perfect start with a penalty in the 15th minute that Manuel Bleda stuck away, with defender Tatsuki Nara sent off for the visitors.
But despite their man advantage, Eastern couldn’t dictate play against the J League side, the gap in class still evident, and Kawasaki hit back not long into the second half, Kou Itakura stabbing home from close range after goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai rushed precipitously off his line.
Both teams had plenty of chances to win in an action-packed second half in front of 5,787 rowdy fans at Mong Kok Stadium, with Eastern’s best efforts falling to their central defenders, Roberto Affonso heading against the bar and Josh Mitchell seeing his headed effort cleared off the line.
But coach Chan declared herself more than happy with the point, especially after a 7-0 pummelling at the hands of Guangzhou Evergrande on their debut in the competition last week.
“Before the match no one would have expected even a draw, but today’s performance was great and we even had chances to win,” said 28-year-old Chan, the first woman to manage a team in the competition.
“We could have taken all three points but I’m still satisfied with the result, we couldn’t have expected taking the lead and the red card in the opening minutes, and our performance tonight can help us in the coming matches.”
Kawasaki changed eight players to the starting line-up that drew 1-1 against Suwon Bluewings of South Korea in their Champions League opener, but if they were expecting an easy night, Iraqi ref Mohanad Sarray ensured otherwise in the 15th minute.
Running on to a long ball by Diego, Bleda was bundled over by Nara in the box and Sarray immediately pointed to the spot and showed the centreback red. Bleda gave ‘keeper Shota Arai no chance with a penalty fired high to his left.
Yapp and his defenders had to make some last-ditch interventions to prevent the Japanese from equalising towards half-time, and their pressure finally told shortly after the interval.
Substitute Kenta Kano whipped a ball in from the right and Brazilian Rhayner helped it on, Itakura poking home with Yapp stranded.
That seemed finally to wake Eastern up to the fact they had the extra man, and though Kawasaki were always dangerous, Chan’s side were a constant threat on the counter and from set pieces.
Affonso and Mitchell were both desperately unlucky not to score before Hong Kong forward Jaimes McKee, a tireless nuisance as ever, missed a golden chance to seal the win in the 80th minute, heading straight at Arai from six yards out.
Still there was time for Kawasaki to win it though, and Yapp kept Eastern alive with a terrific save from Kentaro Moriya that earned him Hong Kong’s first ever man-of-the-match award in a Champions League game.
Kawasaki were reduced to nine men in the dying seconds as Rhayner received a second yellow for a foul on Bleda, with the referee prompting outrage among Eastern’s players and fans by blowing for full-time before Eastern could take the free kick.
We’ve recovered from Guangzhou Evergrande thrashing in Asian Champions League, says Eastern ‘keeper Yapp
The diminutive Chan had to do her best to drag Affonso away from the ref, but after tempers cooled, they could reflect on a significant achievement for Hong Kong football.
“It’s been a great experience these two weeks in the ACL, this home game the terrific atmosphere really helped and we hope in the next two home matches we can do even better,” added Chan.
Her side take on Suwon, who drew 2-2 at home to Guangzhou on Wednesday night, in two weeks in Mong Kok.