Hong Kong Premier League team Kitchee made history on Wednesday night by earning the city’s first-ever win in the AFC Champions League.
They beat Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 at Hong Kong Stadium thanks to a late goal from right midfielder Cheng Chin-lung.
He cut inside after great work from former Uruguayan World Cup star Diego Forlan and unleashed a curling shot into the top corner to ensure the first-ever win for a Hong Kong side in the continent’s most prestigious competition.
Goalscorer Cheng couldn’t contain his delight after scoring the winning goal and giving his team a place in the record books.
“I’m excited and happy for two reasons. One: a very valuable three points, and the other a first-ever goal in the AFC Champions League. It will bring me more confidence,” he said.
He also thanked those who supported him, “The coach has given me a lot of playing time, opportunities and encouragement. Thanks to my dad too,who told me ‘You don’t shoot, you don’t score’. I also want to thank my teammates for keeping up the running and giving me a chance to win it for Kitchee.”
J-League side Kashiwa Reysol had beaten Kitchee 1-0 in Japan last week to leave the Hong Kong side with zero points after three games.
Many observers saw this as Kitchee’s best chance at getting a point on the board, a hope that was further boosted when Kashiwa defender Masashi Kamekawa was given a red card and sent off within the first 10 minutes.
Kashiwa still had the lion’s share of the possessions and the chances despite being a man down but Kitchee plugged away and got the historic win.
Reysol coach Takehiro Shimetaira defended his decision to rest some of the J-League side’s star players, including Cristiano da Silva who started from the bench.
Kitchee coach Chu Chi-kwong was very pleased with his team’s performance and the historic three points, which he said bodes well for the future.
“I’m really pleased. We managed to keep pace with one of the top teams in the competition. Kitchee will improve in the future. We have the ability to compete with the top teams in Asia.”
Chu was delighted Cheng had found the net, saying he had faith in his player and that he wasn’t surprised that he scored.
Reactions from those involved in youth football in the city were also positive. Sam Bensley, Grassroots Football Manager at the Hong Kong Football Association said, “It’s a definite positive for Hong Kong football. Young boys are going to be looking up to the young lad who scored and think ‘this is Cool’, I want to be like him.”
Tristian Cheung, a rising football prospect from Sir Ellis Kadoorie Secondary School (West Kowloon) said, “I thought it was awesome. I love what Cheng said about having the confidence to shoot. I try to bring the same confidence when I play.”
The Hong Kong champions take on Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian at Mong Kok Stadium on April 4 and will look to add to their historic three points.