Churchill Brothers SC’s primary concern before there match against Kitchee SC,their opponents from Hong Kong,was the heat at 3pm in Pune. Players had spoken about the drop in the footballing quality,but Churchill would not have expected to surrender so meekly as they did during the first 20 minutes of their penultimate AFC Cup,group E fixture.
Fifteen minutes into the game,Kitchee SC’s winger Lo Kwam Yee outpaced Raju Yumnan,the Churchill fullback on the right wing. Yee then lasered in a searing cross into the penalty area in the direction of striker Pablo Counago. Churchill centre-half,Lamine Tamba got in before Counago but then inexplicably headed the ball into the ground.
Counago who was lurking on Tamba’s shoulder gleefully accepted the offering and struck a sweet half-volley which gave keeper Sandip Nandy no chance. The Churchill defense seemed drowsy and lethargic due to the heat with their movements and positioning sluggish.
Barely a minute after the restart,Kitchee were awarded a free-kick on the centre-circle. A quick interchange between Counago and attacking midfielder Huan Yang resulted in Counago sneaking between Churchill skipper,Ravanan Dharmaraj and Tamba who seemed oblivious to Counago’s presence. With only the keeper to beat,Counago expertly placed his shot beyond the flailing dive of Nandy and Kitchee were 2-0 up within the first quarter with Churchill bereft of ideas.
The game eventually finished with a scoreline of 0-4 in favor of Kitchee SC and with that Churchill’s hopes of qualifying for the next stage were extinguished. With four points from five games,the Goans are out of contention in the continental competition.
Churchill who were missing four key players,Bikramjit Singh,Roberto Mendes da Silva,Tomba Singh and Felix D’souza,seemed to be at a loss for ideas. Sunil Chhettri,Henri Antchouet and Balal Arezou who were playing up-front were choked for service with the Kitchee midfield bossing the play. Kitchee skipper Chu Siu Kei and Lam Ka Wai playing as a double holding midfield pivot,controlled the pulse of the game. Both players were sharp in their tackles and sprayed the ball around in an intelligent manner.
Churchill looked all at sea in the first half barely showing any attacking endeavor. Churchill’s best chance came in the 32nd minute when Chhettri’s accurate free-kick found Henri Antchouet with a free header. The striker bizarrely failed to make any contact with the ball when he was under no pressure.
With the game all but sealed at the half-time whistle,Kitchee were content to come back and consolidate. Even with Kitchee’s reluctance to fashion any attacking play,Churchill seemed out of the clash. Sunil Chhetri playing at the centre of an attacking trident,regularly dropped deep into midfield to get a touch on the ball. The defense also seemed to be regularly hassled as they missed routine clearances,were regularly caught out of position and frequently gave the ball away near their own penalty area.
Kitchee’s Spanish contingent of of defender Fernando Comi strikers Counago and Jorge Paramo seemed to be the chief thorns in Churchill’s side. Paramo got on the score-sheet in the 57th minute when another piece of farcical defending gifted him a goal. A cross pumped in from the centre seemed to cause hara-kiri in the Churchill defense,three defenders and the keeper all jostled for the ball which incredibly missed all four and landed at Paramo’s feet for him to tap into an unguarded net.
With Kitchee guaranteed three points and also qualification to the knockout stage,the Hong Kong side was keen to sit back and conserve their strength. However,Churchill’s bumbling ways gave them another chance to widen the margin as Cheng Sui Wai drilled home an accurate Siu Kei cross to put the tie beyond all doubt.