Kitchee SC wins first game since joining AFC and defeats Kashiwa Reysol 1-0

March 14 was a historic night in Hong Kong as Kitchee SC registered the first win by a team from Hong Kong in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League with a 1-0 win against Kashiwa Reysol in the fourth round of the group stages.

The winning goal was scored by 20-year-old Cheng Chin-lung, the first Hong Kong-born player to score in the competition.

The first half was filled with turnovers by both teams. Sloppiness was the theme of this period; the players could hardly put together coherent attacks.

As the night went on, the goalkeepers faced more threats in a game filled with errors.

Early in the second half, Kashiwa had a chance to break the deadlock as veteran midfielder Hidekazu Otani threaded a defense-splitting pass down the half-spaces into the penalty box.

Taiyo Koga reached the end of the box and then passed back to Ramon Lopes before the charging goalkeeper was able to reach him.

Lopes shot toward the goal but hit Kim Bong-jin.

He was one of the many defenders in front of the Kitchee goal to preserve the balance.

Just a few minutes later, a three-pass exchange between Krisztián Vadócz, Diego Forlán and Jordi Tarrés around the edge of the box created space for Tarrés to blast the ball toward the goal. However, it was pushed just shy by Kazushige Kirihata, the goalkeeper for Kashiwa.

Later, a powerful shot from Cristiano da Silva was saved by the stretching Wang Zhenpeng.

At this point, it seemed like both teams would score.

The substitute Cheng shook his defender, dribbled for a few yards with a few touches, adjusted and chose to shoot from mid-range. The result was a stunning curling goal to the far corner.

Kirihata knew it was out of his reach while flying in midair and did not bother to stretch too much.

Kashiwa played the game largely one man down.

The red card stemmed from an adventurous pass from Forlán behind the halfway line, which was deflected by Fernando Recio.

Masashi Kamekawa miscalculated the speed in which Alex Tayo Akande was dashing forward and lunged into the Hong Kong international while trying to avert the danger.

The Jordanian referee, Adham Mohammad, deemed that, barring the tackle, it would have been a clear opportunity for Akande to score.

Mohammad signaled that it was the end of the game for the defender. Kamekawa was the sole protester against the decision, but it was unclear whether that was due to the unequivocal nature of the foul or the lack of ambition from the Japanese player.

Kashiwa manager Takahiro Shimotaira made seven changes to his starting lineup compared with the weekend prior against fellow ACL competitor Cerezo Osaka.

In that match, a sense of irony existed; both teams prioritize domestic competitions ahead of the continental championship, in contrast to almost every other team outside of Japan.

Cerezo made 11 changes — the whole starting lineup — on its away trip to Thailand. Cerezo and Kashiwa are both ranked third in their respective groups.

These two games against perceived weaker opponents underline just how much the Japanese teams disregard the competition, despite the danger of being eliminated.

Regardless of the lucid apathy from Kashiwa, the game was worth celebrating for every soccer fan in Hong Kong, including Kitchee general manager Ken Ng.

His goal was to perform better than Eastern Sports Club, the first Hong Kong club to take part in the ACL competition before being defeated by the other three teams in their group with a goal difference of -23.

Kitchee still sits at the bottom of their group after the win, but this should not stop the town from enjoying the landmark win in Hong Kong soccer history.

“In an individual perspective, being able to score in ACL was certainly beneficial to my future,” said Cheng, the best player of the match. “But really kudos to Chu Sir for giving me the chance and placing his trust in me."