Eastern coach Chan Yuen-ting ready for Guangzhou Evergrande AFC Champions League opener

Hong Kong champions travel to the southern Chinese city in their group G tie on February 22 following this week’s draw

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 12:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 12:35pm

Eastern coach Chan Yuen-ting faces the harshest introduction to the AFC Champions League next year with an away tie against Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande, but the heralded female coach is taking it all in her stride ahead of the group stage opener on February 22.

This week’s draw pitted Hong Kong Premier League champions Eastern against a Guangzhou side who are coached by World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari and who have won the last six Chinese Super League titles as well as the AFC Champions League in 2013 and 2015.

Group G also contains South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings and a yet to be determined team from Japan, with Eastern making the 120 kilometre trip across the border to the southern Chinese city to face over 40,000 fans at Tianhe Sports Centre Stadium before welcoming the J.League side to Hong Kong a week later.

“The Asian Champions League is a valuable opportunity for us to learn from opponents like Guangzhou and improve ourselves,” said 2016 AFC Women’s Coach of the Year Chan.

“I am happy to meet Scolari. This is my great honour to play against his team. He has good experience and is very intelligent.”

Ambitious club Guangzhou contributes numerous players to the China national team and is home to Brazil internationals Paulinho and Ricardo Goulart as well as Colombian Jackson Martinez, who was signed from Atletico Madrid in February for around US$44 million.

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Scolari himself led Brazil to the 2002 World Cup and guided Portugal to the final of the 2004 European Championships.

“We know how strong Guangzhou is,” added Chan. “We will try very hard to show our quality.

“From the beginning, we expected this. Every game will be very tough for us. We just need to improve and prepare for the games as well as we can.

“I hope that my football story will encourage women coaches to go for their dream, but I believe that I am not representing anyone. I just need to do my job.

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“I have received some awards and attention from the world. However, it is not important what people say, I just want to stay humble and work hard and learn to be a good coach for my club.”

Chan’s exploits after guiding Eastern to the Premier League crown last season have seen the 28-year-old receive numerous awards after becoming the first female coach to guide a men’s team to a league title.

“Gender aside, this is a game between one of club football’s rising powers, and a team that is less resourced and less fancied,” said Asian Football Confederation vice-president Moya Dodd, who is a former Australia women’s player and an active proponent of the women’s game.

“On the coaches bench you have a rising star taking on one of football’s old masters – a World Cup winner, no less. It’s a great story for the fans, and all the pressure will be on Scolari.

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“The closer you get to the field, the harder it is for a woman. It’s a positive sign that growing up in the women’s game can provide the experience and learning to launch a coaching career in any part of the game - including the Champions League.”

There is some hope for Eastern as in the second round of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, Hong Kong met China on two occasions and both games ended goalless.

“A match of this significance should really attract the fans and create huge excitement,” said Hong Kong Football Association chief executive officer Mark Sutcliffe

“It’s an amazing story, one that you couldn’t make up. Perhaps Hollywood would be interested?

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“It’s actually a very daunting challenge. In terms of scale, resources and quality you can’t compare the two sides. You would have to say that the odds are really stacked against Eastern. Having said that this is football and anything can happen.

“Ms Chan has a huge following here in Hong Kong. She is an inspiring figure for those of us involved in football and the accolades keep pouring in. She seems to be taking it all in her stride and remains humble and grounded.”