On the back of a narrow 2-1 victory over underdogs Liaoning Kaixin in the Chinese Super League last Friday night, Scolari appeared defiant regarding the expectation that his much-fancied Guangzhou Evergrande side should win comfortably in tomorrow’s ACL clash with Eastern.
“1-0, 2-0, 7-0, it doesn’t matter. Three points are three points”, said an unimpressed Scolari, who knows a thing or two about grinding out results, with two CSL titles and one ACL trophy already to his name in his two seasons managing in China. But nonetheless, the sell-out crowd present in Mong Kok Stadium tomorrow night will be expecting plenty of goals against 33/1 outsiders Eastern.
For Eastern, this game represents a chance to avenge a farcical night last February when just nine men shipped seven goals at Tianhe Stadium. Speaking at tonight’s pre-match press conference, experienced campaigner Lee Hong-lim had no such fears, attributing the aforementioned result to inexperience. “[Guangzhou] are one of the top teams in Asia, but we have a good record at home, and hope to put on a much better performance this time around.”
Another factor that has changed is the frenzy of interest in the fixture. The previous leg of this tie represented the first Asian Champions League match for a Hong Kong side, as well as carrying the significance of being the first ‘local derby’, in continental terms, between these two clubs. Now, with everything to play for in the Hong Kong Premier League, and a cup semi-final to look forward to this Sunday, Eastern could be forgiven for shifting their focus to their upcoming domestic games, rather than tomorrow night.
“We will be taking each game as it comes”, Chan Yuen-ting proclaimed, “and we will be looking to bridge the gap between the two teams in tomorrow’s game”.
Eastern, and Chan, can take positives from the continental campaign thus far. Despite their slim chance of progressing to the knockout stages, and heavy defeats away to Guangzhou and Suwon, positives can be taken from the two impressive home performances against Kawasaki Frontale and Suwon Bluewings, which yielded a historic 1-1 draw and a narrow 0-1 loss respectively.
For Guangzhou, a win is needed tomorrow to guarantee progression to the knockout stages, the minimum requirement for a team who were Asian champions as recently as 2015. On the back of the controversial rule change implemented by the Chinese FA, which limits Chinese Super League clubs to just three foreign players on match days, offside.hk questioned the impact Scolari feels that this will have on his ability to build a squad capable of challenging for continental honours. “It’s better for Chinese football”, claimed ‘Felipão’, “and it is in line with similar policies in Japan and the Middle-East. It will take time for the overall quality of Chinese football to improve.”
All things considered, it’s sure to be an intriguing clash tomorrow night at Mong Kok Stadium, and the teams will be presented with a raucous atmosphere from a crowd who will consider themselves lucky merely to be present at this occasion, as tickets have been sold out for months. Kick-off is at 8 pm tomorrow night, but due to security and ID checks an early arrival is recommended. As always, seats are allocated on “first come, first served” basis.
Following the ticket fiasco, only spectators with a valid HKID (or foreign passport) will be allowed to enter the home sector. However, the local fan club of Guangzhou Evergrande announced that they would try to gather within the designated home sector (apparently stands 20 and 21).
As always, you can follow our Twitter feed @offsideHK for live updates and opinions throughout.
Pre-match press conference photos by Chris KL Lau