Kitchee SC falls to Quanjian 3-0, Forlán debut renews interest for team's fans

On Jan. 14, Diego Forlán, the top scorer of the 2010 World Cup, made his debut for his new club, Kitchee SC. There were 3,200 fans in Mong Kok Stadium. The average attendance for Kitchee in the 2017-2018 season was 2,170. Forlán was only on the field for three minutes.

It was clear from the beginning that the purpose of luring the two-time Pichichi Trophy winner, including one win in the era of duopoly between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, was to fare better against the Asian giants in the Asian Champions League. However, the boys in blue did not meet the expectation in Tianjin.

Kitchee wanted to do better than Eastern S.C. did last season — one draw, five defeats, one goal scored and 24 conceded. Eastern S.C. was the first club to ever participate in the ACL and has a campaign shadowed by political controversies.

“Tianjin Quanjian, playing in the Chinese Super League, definitely has a better quality than that of the teams in Hong Kong,” Kitchee head coach Chu Chi Kwong said in an interview with Tianjin local media ahead of the game. “So we will prepare more and see if we can perform better.”

Kitchee left Hong Kong on Saturday, Feb. 10, in an attempt to acclimate to the blistering cold weather, showing the dedication to a decent campaign, but lost 3-0 nonetheless on Tuesday, Feb. 13, to Quanjian.

In addition to the cold weather, Kwong also conceded that Kitchee would be reactive in the game. He was right, as his team, with 36 percent of the possession, was broadly responding to whatever moves Quanjian initiated.

Quanjian, scoring three goals in seven minutes, essentially finished the game before the halftime whistle. With Alexandre Pato dropping off from his forward position to take up a role of schemer, his passing techniques often destabilized the Kitchee defense. Manager Paulo Sousa, using tactics different from those employed in the playoff against Ceres-Negros F.C., instructed players to use the width of the pitch, delivering the balls from both wings to exploit Kitchee’s weakness in defending in the air.

Anthony Modeste, bagging two goals in the previous game, was the main benefactor of the tactic. He headed one goal to the bottom corner, leaving Kitchee goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng, who had already made an impressive save from Modeste just five minutes earlier, stretching but getting nowhere near the ball.

Four minutes later, while Zheng Dalun was running into the box from the defense-splitting pass from Pato, Modeste dropped off to the penalty spot. Paulinho deflected the shot from Modeste into the goal. Sun Ke scored a diving header with an assist from Wang Yongpo in the ensuing minutes.

Nearing the end of the game, Tong Kin Man fired above the goal after Alessandro Leonardo’s layoff from an accurate pass by Fernando Comí, Hong Kong Premier League’s best player last season. Kitchee was not a challenge to Quanjian.

Tianjin did not, however, further capitalize on the increasingly tired Kitchee side to score more goals in the second half.

That could prove to be the deciding factor in a competitive group consisting of K-league champion Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC and ACL regular from Japan, Kashiwa Reysol.

Kitchee, after one game, can already be dismissed as a mere bystander of the competition. Hong Kong, a storied region that pioneered Asian soccer and the place where the first soccer team consisting of Chinese players was born, seemed to be unable to stop the decline in the beautiful game.