Did Esteghlal fans help Kitchee’s Cheng Chin-lung win AFC Champions League goal of the season by landslide?
- Winger finishes 200,000 votes clear of nearest rival, Ahmad Nourollahi of Persepolis
- Historic winner against Kashiwa Reysol polls equivalent to a tenth of the Hong Kong population
Kitchee winger Cheng Chin-lung’s last-gasp winning goal against Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol at Hong Kong Stadium has been voted the best AFC Champions League goal of the season for 2018, with an official announcement from the AFC expected Thursday.
Cheng’s goal polled a massive 707,476 votes, equivalent to one in ten of the Hong Kong populace.
This was more than half of the vote and over 200,000 votes ahead of second-placed Ahmad Nourollahi of Iranian club Persepolis on 490,273.
This has led to speculation that Cheng may have been helped by the fans of Esteghlal, the mortal enemies of their Tehran rivals, Persepolis.
Perhaps the goal, scored back on matchday four, was backed because it was so historic for Hong Kong football. This was the first ever scored by a Hongkonger in the tournament, Kitchee’s first among Asia’s elite and the first match winner for a Hong Kong side.
— AFC Champions League (@TheAFCCL) 24 November 2018
It was only the second goal scored by a Hong Kong club following Manuel Bleda’s penalty for Eastern against Kawasaki Frontale that earned them Hong Kong’s first ever point in the Champions League in 2017.
The 20-year-old was delighted to pick up the award.
“I am thrilled and honoured to win the best goal of 2018 AFC Champions League among all other beautiful goals,” he told the-afc.com website.
“To be honest, my head went blank when I scored! The goal was very special and a meaningful milestone for me as it was my first goal in a high ranking competition like the AFC Champions League, and most importantly it helped my team to win the game!”
Cheng told the South China Morning Post of his surprise at winning.
“Although I scored the goal, I have never watched it again” he said, “nor did I think this would become the golden goal of the AFC Champions League this year.
“I was told by my friends that this goal had the chance to win. I preferred Oscar’s goal because the way it was scored is also beautiful.”
Cheng’s historic goal beat out competition from Shanghai SIPG playmaker, who was nominated for his curler against Sydney in the group stage.
It also bested another goal from a Chinese Super League side, Guangzhou Evergrande striker Ricardo Goulart’s delicate chip.
Such was Cheng’s margin of victory, that those goals polled zero per cent of the vote along with tournament top scorer Baghdad Bounedjah of Al-Sadd, Lokomotiv Tashkent’s Ikromjon Alibaev and Serginho of eventual winners Kashima Antlers.
— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) 7 March 2018
Mohannad Aseri of Al Ahli polled 1 per cent, Esteghlal’s Mame Thiam finished on 4 per cent and Buriram United’s Edgar ended with 5 per cent of the vote.
Kitchee will be looking to reach the group stage again for the 2019 tournament but they will have to go the play-offs after Hong Kong lost its automatic qualification spot for the 2018 competition.
Eastern, who played the AFC Champions League in 2017, failed to make it through the play-offs last season where they went out 4-2 to Vietnamese side FC Than Hoa at Mong Kok Stadium in January.
Kitchee’s path to the group stage will see them travel away to Malaysian side Perak in February with the winner then travelling to play a side from South Korea’s K-League in the final round of play-offs.
Kitchee lost to K-League side Ulsan Hyundai in the final play-off ahead of the 2017 tournament, suffering the heartbreak of penalties.