Jeonbuk Hyundai head coach Dan Petrescu (56) smiles with satisfaction.
Jeonbuk Hyundai defeated Kitchee SC 2-1 in the fifth leg of their 2023-2024 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) Group F match at Hong Kong Stadium on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.
With the win, Jeonbuk remains second in the group with three wins, two losses and nine points. The gap between them and first-place Bangkok United (Thailand, 10 points), who have played one game less, is now one point. Meanwhile, Kitchee remain in last place with one draw, four losses, and one point.
It was a valuable win for Jeonbuk to keep their hopes of reaching the round of 16 alive. Had Jeonbuk lost or drew, they would have slipped to third place in the group, putting a red flag in their path to the round of 16. However, they overcame away pressure and a numerical disadvantage to take the three points.
There’s even a chance of an upset. If Bangkok fails to defeat Ryan City (Singapore, 6 points), Jeonbuk can catch them in the final match at home and finish first. It wouldn’t be the worst case scenario if Bangkok defeats Ryan City to clinch first place in the group. If Jeonbuk can beat an unmotivated Bangkok to get to 12 points, they will likely finish in the top three teams in each of the five groups in the East Asian region.
Coach Petrescu said after the game, “First of all, I’m really happy with the win. All the players fought well, as we wanted. We scored two goals in the first half and went on a good run. We were hampered in the second half by some questionable calls. But that’s the referee’s domain, so I won’t go into it. In the second half, Kitchee created more chances, and we created two or three in the last minute. Anyway, we got three valuable points on a long trip. All 24 players who traveled to Hong Kong deserved the win and I want to thank them.”
Jeonbuk has played Kitchee twice this season, winning both meetings 2-1. “They only have one point from five ACL games, but they deserve more,” said Petrescu. They played really well in the second half. There was not much difference from the first leg. At 11v11 we were dominant, but Kitchee has a lot of dual nationality players and good foreign players. They have great harmony.”
However, Kitchee’s hopes of reaching the ACL next season have already been dashed. Petrescu said: “The ACL is a stage that every big club wants to play in. Kitchee is the biggest team in Hong Kong, so they will be disappointed. It’s the same for us. We have to get through the group stage, and in the rest of the league we have to do our best to somehow qualify for the ACL elite. The Champions League, whether in Europe or Asia, is the highest level and the stage you want to play on.”
Finally, when asked about frontline striker Park Jae-yong, he said, “I don’t agree that he didn’t play well. He played a good game. In the second half, it was difficult for him to make his presence felt because of the sending-off. Of course, as a striker, he needs to score goals, but his fight and dedication to the team was better than anyone else.”