The draw has been made and Eastern have been placed in Group G of the 2017 Asia Champions League, along with Asian powerhouses Guangzhou Evergrande (CHN, CSL champions), Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR, FA Cup winners) and Kawasaki Frontale (JPN, 3rd in league).
This is massive news for local football, particularly with the fact that Eastern and their Head Coach Chan Yuen-ting will be taking on the 2015 winners Guangzhou Evergrande, currently managed by former Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari. It also opens up the possibility for Eastern goalkeeper Yapp Hung-fai and Evergrande midfielder Zheng Zhi to meet on the field once again. Zheng allegedly referred to the Hong Kong national team shot-stopper as a “dog” during the infamous 0:0 draw between China and Hong Kong in Shenzhen, with other allegations of spitting resulting in him being universally booed by the Hong Kong fans in the return game.
It will also be interesting to see whether the use of Hong Kong Stadium, with 40,000 seats, will be a viable option with home matches taking place in March and April, very close to when the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens are due to be held. In a first reaction, Eastern director Peter Leung plans to use Mong Kok Stadium, with a capacity of roughly 6,600, for all three home games.
The current schedule suggests that Eastern would play away at Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium as early as Wednesday, Feburary 22nd, followed by a home game against Kawasaki Frontale on March 1st. Eastern would eventually host Guangzhou Evergrande on Tuesday, April 25th.
Kitchee will also be in the competition, and will join in the 2nd Qualifying Round where they must overcome Hanoi T&T in Mong Kok Stadium on January 31st to proceed to the next round, where they would face Ulsan Hyundai (KOR) for a place in Group E with Kashima Antlers (JPN), Muangthong United (THA), and any one of Shanghai Shenhua (CHN), Brisbane Roar (AUS), Global FC (PHI) or Tampines Rover (SIN). Originally, Kitchee would have met Jeju United in the 3rd qualifying round, but after the disqualification of Jeonbuk due to match fixing allegations back in 2013/14, Jeju received the third group stage seed and Ulsan Hyundai were awarded a spot in the play-off.
Eastern – Full schedule for Group G:
22 Feb 2017 – Guangzhou Evergrande vs Eastern
01 Mar 2017 – Eastern vs Kawasaki Frontale
14 Mar 2017 – Eastern vs Suwon Samsung Bluewings
12 Apr 2017 – Suwon Samsung Bluewings vs Eastern
25 Apr 2017 – Eastern SC vs Guangzhou Evergrande
09 May 2017 – Kawasaki Frontale vs Eastern SC
Kitchee – Play-Off Schedule:
25 Jan 2017 – Kitchee vs Hanoi T&T
07 Feb 2017 – Ulsan Hyundai vs Kitchee
Either way, Champions League football is coming to Hong Kong!