Churchill face Hong Kong side Kitchee SC in AFC Cup

Hong Kong: Having been handed a chance to play in the tournament after Dempo`s pull-out, Churchill Brothers will take on Hong Kong champions Kitchee Sports Club in their opening match of the AFC Cup campaign here on Tuesday.

Churchill have been boosted by the recent signings of Indian captain Sunil Chhetri, Afghanistan striker Balal Arezou and former Pune FC player Lamine Tamba ahead of their AFC campaign.

The Goans have also been allowed to have the services of two other India players -- Sandip Nandy, Denzil Franco and Lenny Rodrigues. The trio and Chhetri has been allowed by the AIFF to join the national squad, which would be in Yangon (Myanmar) for AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers, scheduled after the AFC up match.

Churchill have not been in the best of form in the I-League, failing to win a match in three outings though they are in the second position in the league standings. They had lost to Goan rivals Sporting Clube de Goa and drawn with Prayag United and Mumbai FC.

But, with the three latest signings aimed at boosting both their defence and attack, Churchill would look to begin their AFC campaign with a win in their Group E match and improve upon their performance in 2010 when they crashed out in the Round of 16 after finishing second in the group stage.

Kitchee, the reigning Hong Kong league champions, have players from different countries, including China, Spain, Pakistan, South Korea and even New Zealand.

They have been one of the most successful and big-spending teams in Hong Kong having played exhibition matches at home against top European sides like A C Milan, Juventus, Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers and Arsenal.

Two top teams from each of the eight groups, after playing on home and away basis, would qualify for the Round of 16.

Churchill got the chance to play in the AFC Cup after I-League champions Dempo pulled out of it as they did not find it cost-effective to play outside Goa for their home matches as the Nehru Stadium in Margao has been undergoing renovation for some time for the Lusofonia Games later this year.

Dempo, who have been playing in AFC Cup for sometime, were earlier forced to host their home matches at the Gachibowli stadium in Hyderabad and the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune, costing more than Rs 10 lakh per match.

The AFC offered a replacement for Dempo, and Churchill, who finished third in the I-League behind second-placed East Bengal, accepted it and decided to host their home matches in Pune. East Bengal, the Federation Cup winners, are the other Indian side in the AFC Cup.