AFC Champions League

Diego Forlan’s Kitchee will kick off AFC Champions League in China after Tianjin Quanjian avoid upset to Philippine underdogs

Hong Kong champions will want to avoid the fate of Eastern last year when they lost first game 7-0 away to Guangzhou Evergrande

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 5:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 7:52pm

Hong Kong Premier League champions Kitchee will kick off their debut AFC Champions League campaign with a visit to Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian on February 13.

The Tianjin side earned their own debut in the continental competition after beating Philippine side Ceres-Negros 2-0 in a play-off game at Tianjin Olympic Sports Centre.

They CSL club were seeded for the play-offs on account of finishing third in the 2017 Chinese Super League, their first season at that level.

The Chinese side were always the favourites against a team that had provided the upset of the last play-off round with a 3-2 win over Brisbane Roar in Australia, but the odds were further stacked against the visitors after they only arrived on the mainland in the early hours of Tuesday.

Visa difficulties meant the squad arrived via Hong Kong and only had 15 hours to acclimatise to temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius in the northern port city at kick-off.

French striker Anthony Modeste, who has been linked with move to Borussia Dortmund in the current transfer window, scored the opening goal with a header from a corner.

He then added another in the second half after breaking the Ceres-Negros offside trap and stroking the ball home.

The win marked former Fiorentina boss Paulo Sousa’s competitive debut as Tianjin Quanjian manager. The Portuguese replaced Fabio Cannavaro after the Italian returned to champions Guangzhou Evergrande in the close season.

Kitchee will travel to Tianjin in a rich run of form, winning their last two Hong Kong Premier League games by a combined score of 15-1, with new signing Diego Forlan opening his account with two goals against BC Rangers last Sunday.

They are sure to be tested by Modeste and fellow foreign players Axel Witsel and Alexandre Pato, each of whom started the play-off game.

Forget Leo Messi, did Diego Forlan score the best free-kick of the season with his first Kitchee goal?

Last year Eastern, who were the first team to represent Hong Kong in the group stage, lost their opening game to Guangzhou Evergrande, losing 7-0 in Guangzhou. They picked up a solitary point before finishing bottom of the group.

The fourth and final member of group E is Japanese J-League side Kashiwa Reysol, who beat Thailand’s Muangthong United 3-0 in Tuesday evening’s play-off.

Kitchee will visit the Japanese team on March 6, after hosting Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at Hong Kong stadium on February 20.