AFC: Pune to host Hong Kong champions Kitchee SC
Pune FC will be playing for pride and eager to finish their first-ever continental campaign on a high when they host Hong Kong's Kitchee SC in a final round Group-H encounter at the Shree Shivchhatrapati Sports Complex, in Pune on Tuesday.
With Kitchee having already qualified for the next round as Group-winners, Pune FC (4th in Group-H with 3 points) will be keen to log their first-ever AFC Cup win and try to improve their position on the table.
Back when both sides met in March at the Mong Kok Stadium, it was Pune FC who staged a phenomenal second half comeback to earn a draw.
Despite being two goals down at the break, Pune FC fought hard to earn their first-ever overseas point and will hope to carry forward the same spirit.
Coached by Chu Chi Kwong, Kitchee plies its trade in the Hong Kong First Division League and have recently been crowned as domestic champions.
Having already wrapped up the domestic league, the Hong Kong giants will now be focussed solely on their continental campaign and will prove a tough nut to crack.
Moreover, Kitchee come into the game on the back of a 19-match unbeaten run in all competitions and will be full of confidence having thrashed Singapore's Tampines Rovers 4-0 at home a couple of weeks back.
This is Kitchee's third consecutive and fourth overall appearance in the AFC Cup. Till date, their best result in the competition is the quarterfinal appearance in 2013 where they lost 4-2 to Jordan's Al-Faisaly FC over two legs (2012 - Round of 16; 2008 - Group Stage).
Speaking at the pre-match Press Conference, Coach Kwong said, "This is the second time we are coming to Pune. Last year we played here during the same month and we have some experience of the conditions and the pitch here."
"Our team has already qualified for the next round but we will give a good performance because we don't want to lose," he further added.
Speaking about the hosts, Kwong said, "Pune FC are a good team. They have few good players like the Australian (Mirjan Pavlovic) and the Dutch player (Riga Mustapha)."
Kitchee skipper Lo Kwan Yee said his team won't take the game lightly, "We are serious about the game. Despite having qualified for the next round, we want to win this game."
On the other hand, while making their maiden AFC Cup appearance, Pune FC are at the end of their I-League campaign with only one match remaining.
Pune FC Coach Mike Snoei said, "Our away game against Kitchee (earlier in the competition) was our best performance. We played an unbelievable second half and had a few chances to win it at the end. We have good memories of the game."
He further added, "Now, we must try and get a good win for the club for a good end (to the season)."
Going into the game, Pune FC will be missing services of dynamic winger Gabriel Fernandes and Douhou Pierre due to injury. Joining them on the sidelines will be defender Calum Angus who serves a suspension after picking up his second booking of the group stage against Nay Pyi Taw in the previous game.
Speaking about the team, Snoei said, "We can play dominant football, but we need our best players for it. Tomorrow we might have a different midfield due to injuries but they (Kitchee) too have a few players missing. These things happen towards the end of the season. But we still have a good group of players tomorrow."
Pune FC stand-in captain Riga Mustapha said, "Douhou, Calum and me have been working together helping the young players at our club. So tomorrow, it won't be much of a difference."
Having had a few disappointing results in both competitions (I-League and the AFC Cup) during the past two months, Pune FC will be looking forward to putting on a performance for their fans.
Form Run (in AFC Cup)
Kitchee SC (1st, 13 pts): W-D-W-W-W
Pune FC (4th, 3 pts): D-D-L-L-D
(Posted on 21-04-2014)