More trouble ahead? HKFA likely to step up security for next year’s AFC Champions League clash
Hong Kong champions Kitchee could meet Chinese side Tianjin Quanjin in the group stages of the 2018 tournament, fuelling more political tensions
Ground security is likely to be stepped up for next year’s AFC Champions League to prevent a repeat of this year’s ugly scenes between Guangzhou Evergrande and local club, Eastern, that saw the visitors unfurl a highly offensive banner.
In April, Guangzhou Evergrande were fined and handed a suspended two-game stadium fan ban after the Chinese side were found guilty of breaching rules when their supporters displayed an “Annihilate British Dogs, Eradicate Hong Kong Independence Poison” banner during the game. Eastern were also fined after their fans waved a colonial Hong Kong flag.
The match created political tension between Hong Kong and the mainland as Hong Kong soccer fans booed the China national anthem, a regular occurrence that was sparked after the crackdown of the Occupy Central movement in late 2014.
At the AFC Champions League draw in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong champions Kitchee could meet Tianjin Quanjin, of China, in a potentially explosive clash.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) December 6, 2017
Hong Kong champions Kitchee, who will be making their debut in the main round robin competition, were drawn in group E along with K-League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
The group is likely to be completed by Tianjin Quanjian, who finished third in the 2017 Chinese Super League and a Japanese side, who will be decided after the Emperor’s Cup final on January 1, 2018. The two sides will need to win their respective matches in the play-off round before securing a place in the main draw.
Another Hong Kong club, Eastern, will be required to start in preliminary round two against visitors FLC Thanh Hoa, of Vietnam, on January 23. If they win through they will have to travel to South Korea to play Suwon Bluewings in the play-off round a week later.
Victory against the South Koreans will put them in group H which also features Chinese FA Cup champions Shanghai Shenhua and Australian A-League side, Sydney FC.
“We learned a big lesson in the Champions League last season when Eastern played hosts to Guangzhou Evergrande. Ground security will be top of our agenda if a Hong Kong club meet their mainland counterparts this time,” said Football Association vice-chairman Pui Kwan-kay.
Kitchee coach Chu Chi-kwong said his side will face a big challenge against Jeonbuk, who contain a number of outstanding South Korea internationals.
Meanwhile, big-spending Shanghai Shenhua have been placed with Australian A-League club Sydney FC and 2016 Club World Cup finalist Kashima Antlers in the group stage of the 2018 AFC Champions League.
Shenhua, winners of the Chinese FA Cup last month, are waiting to see whether star Argentine Carlos Tevez will remain with the club after a disappointing first season in China.
Although reigning Asian champions Urawa Reds of Japan have failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament, 2016 winner Jeonbuk Motors will be returning. The South Korean club was barred from defending their title in 2017 after a club scout was found guilty of bribing referees in 2013.
Guangzhou Evergrande, the 2015 Asian champions, will take on Jeju United, of South Korea, Buriram United, of Thailand, and the winner of Japan’s Emperor’s Cup.
The tournament, containing 32 teams split into eight groups and divided into western and eastern geographical zones, kicks off February 12.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press