Churchill Brothers SCs primary concern before their match against Kitchee SC,the opponents from Hong Kong,was the heat at 3 pm in Pune. Players had spoken about the drop in the quality of play,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,Kitchees winger Lo Kwam Yee burned Raju Yumnan,the Churchill fullback,for pace on the right wing. Yee then shot 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 Tambas shoulder,gleefully accepted the offering and struck a sweet half-volley,which gave keeper Sandip Nandy no chance. The Churchill defence 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 Counagos 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 4-0 in favour of Kitchee and with that Churchills 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 Dsouza,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 endeavour. Their best chance came in the 32nd minute when Chhettris 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 Kitchees reluctance to fashion any attacking play,Churchill seemed out of the clash. Chhetri playing at the centre of an attacking trident regularly dropped deep into midfield to get a touch on the ball. The defence 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.
Kitchees Spanish contingent of defender Fernando Comi strikers Counago and Jorge Paramo seemed to be the chief thorns in Churchills side. Paramo got on the scoresheet in the 57th minute when another piece of farcical defending gifted him a goal. A cross pumped in from the centre seemed to cause harakiri in the Churchill defence,three defenders and the keeper all jostled for the ball which incredibly missed all four and landed at Paramos 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,Churchills 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.