Qualifying for next year’s AFC Cup small consolation for Hong Kong soccer giants Kitchee
They were on top of the world last season with trophies galore, but the minor League Cup and making it through to the 2017 regional competition is all they can boast from this season
Kitchee can look back on a disappointing season despite qualifying for the AFC Cup next season after beating Kwoon Chung Southern 2-0 in a play-off final at Mong Kok Stadium on Saturday.
Having secured three trophies in the previous season, including the inaugural Hong Kong Premier League title, Kitchee this season picked up only a relatively minor trophy with the League Cup and the regional cup qualification.
Against a depleted district team, which had almost half their regular players out due to injury or suspension, they needed a stoppage-time goal from Hong Kong international Lam Ka-wai to seal matters after Alex Akande had put them ahead in the first period.
Southern, who upset South China 2-1 in the first round of the play-off series, struggled to get enough possession in a match marred by a heavy downpour in the second half, but their fighting spirit won the hearts of the 1,500 fans.
“It’s always difficult against opponents who spend most of their time focused on defence,” said Kitchee coach Chu Chi-kwong. “We had expected such a situation but the players stayed patient and used the space of the pitch to weave attacks. We did well in the first half, but the rain in the second half gave us some difficulties.”
Chu, who replaced outgoing Spaniard Abraham Garcia in March, said it could hardly be described as a successful season for a heavyweight club despite making it to the regional cup competition for next year.
“We finished the season below par,” said Chu, who also saw Kitchee bow out of this year’s AFC Cup competition, losing their round-of-16 tie 3-2 midweek to visitors Bengaluru of India.
“We had many players called up for the Hong Kong team in the World Cup qualifiers in the first half of the season, which affected our performance. That’s why we struggled to reach our best form.
“In the second half of the season, we improved and were able to maintain quite a good winning run, losing only three matches. But it came too late.
There are some good signs with some strong young players coming through the ranks and hopefully they will get more chances next season.”
Captain Lam agreed that it had been a disappointing campaign after winning the championship, League Cup and FA Cup last season.
“We had some shaky performances in the first half of the season and the team lacked consistency,” said the midfielder. “We showed some progress in the second part of the season and hopefully we will have Chu as the coach next season, as he knows the players well and can lead us to a championship title.”