Eastern turn to defence in bid to avoid another Guangzhou Evergrande humiliation
Coach Chan Yuen-ting says the limited space at Mong Kok Stadium suits her side and is hopeful of securing points in AFC Champions League group soccer match
Eastern are confident of avoiding another humiliating defeat when they meet Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League group stage at Mong Kok Stadium on Tuesday.
The two-time AFC Champions League winners inflicted a stunning 7-0 defeat on the Hong Kong champions in the opening group match in Guangzhou two months ago.
“We are confident of securing some points from the match,” said Eastern coach Chan Yuen-ting at the pre-match press conference. “We come back to our familiar pitch and the compact venue will also give our defensive play advantages.
“More importantly, we have gained a lot of experience at this level after the Guangzhou game and are now in a much better preparation for the Champions League, both mentally and physically.”
Forward Lee Hong-lim also said playing at home would give them a big boost although they are facing one of the region’s top teams.
Watch: Guangzhou Evergrande v Eastern, AFC Champions League highlights
“We have the support of the fans and are expecting a good performance from the players as seen from the two previous home games,” said the Hong Kong international.
“It won’t be easy for Guangzhou as we can tighten our defence with the limited space of the Mong Kok ground and wait for the chance to come.”
The mainlanders, who won the regional club title in 2013 and 2015 but failed to reach the knockout stage last year, need a victory to boost their group prospect after some sloppy performances have returned three draws from their last three matches.
Guangzhou are second in the group with six points, two behind leaders Suwon Bluewings of South Korea, while Kawasaki Frontale of Japan sit on four points.
But coach Luiz Felipe Scolari remained upbeat for another victory over Eastern, even as he ruled out the possibility of a big win in the away game.
“We come here to win the match,” he said. “I was worried over the pitch size before I came but it looks fine after checking the ground here. The pitch is small but it’s not a serious problem as what people have told me.”
The Brazilian also rejected comments that Guangzhou have been struggling in form and needed a convincing result in Hong Kong to prove themselves.
“There is only one champion so far in China this season and it is Guangzhou after we won the Super Cup,” he said.
“Although we did win 7-0 in the first match, it is still three points to me and that’s also what we are looking for this time.”
Captain Zheng Zhi has some bitter memories of Mong Kok Stadium, having led China to a disappointing goalless draw against Hong Kong in the World Cup qualifiers in 2015, however the midfield powerhouse was confident of a good showing.
“The pitch is a bit different from Guangzhou but it won’t affect our attack and teamwork,” he said. “We want to get the three points to consolidate our hopes of reaching the next round.”
Eastern also has crucial domestic games against South China in the FA Cup semi-final this weekend and the showdown against Kitchee in the Premier League next week, but coach Chan said they would not be holding anything back in the Champions League.
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“I don’t think we can keep anything against Guangzhou as we are facing a top club in Asia,” she said. “We have no injury problem and will field the best possible squad we can.”
Eastern, who have collected one point in four games, will likely play five midfielders – potentially Lee, Bai He, Diego Eli, Jamies McKee and Leung Chun-pong – leaving Manuel Bleda the lone striker up front.