Eastern handed Kawasaki Frontale test in AFC Champions League as group stage line-up confirmed
Hong Kong champions also face Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande and South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings on their continental debut
Hong Kong Premier League champions Eastern will face Japan’s Kawasaki Frontale along with Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande and South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the group stage of the 2017 AFC Champions League after Kashima Antlers’ Emperor’s Cup final win on Sunday confirmed the line-up for group F of the continental showpiece.
Last month’s draw in Kuala Lumpur handed Chan Yuen-ting’s charges meetings with Guangzhou and Suwon, but their third opponent for their AFC Champions League debut was only confirmed as Kashima completed Japan’s double on Sunday by beating Kawasaki 2-1 in the Emperor’s Cup final.
Eastern make the 20 kilometre trip across the border to the southern Chinese city to face over 40,000 fans at Tianhe Sports Centre Stadium for their group stage opener on February 22 before welcoming J.League side Kawasaki to Hong Kong a week later.
Kawasaki also finished third in the J.League last season and are making their fifth appearance in the group stage of the AFC Champions League and first since 2014 when they reached the last 16 having finished second in their group behind eventual champions Western Sydney Wanderers from Australia.
Kashima, who won their eighth J-League title last month, crushed Kawasaki as midfielder Fabricio dos Santos Messias struck a goal in the fourth minute of extra time.
“All I was thinking was to help the team as a member and that led to the goal,” the Brazilian player told public broadcaster NHK. “I’m very happy.”
February’s opener for Eastern in Guangzhou will finally bring to an end a drawn out process of deciding which team will take up Hong Kong’s first automatic place in the group stage of the AFC Champions League after Kicthee were initially put forward until the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) made a u-turn in November.
Eastern withdrew their desire to take up the place in July after losing a key financial backer, but after it was discovered Hong Kong could lose the historic place all together if the domestic champions were not nominated, the HKFA made the change to the dismay of Kitchee who now must win two play-off games to earn a place in the group stage.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse