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Preview – 2021 AFC Cup Group J (East Zone)

Hong Kong: The 2021 AFC Cup returns after nearly a month's absence, with Eastern Long Lions, Tainan City, Athletic 220 and Lee Man set to battle for a place in the knockout stage when Group J begins on Wednesday.

Hong Kong will stage the group, which sees teams from the host city, Chinese Taipei and Mongolia face off, with the table-toppers to advance to the knockout rounds.

As the countdown to the kick-off continues, join as we run the rule over the participating sides.

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The Venues

Hong Kong Stadium

Overlooked by the city's famed high-rises and mountaintops, the 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium was opened in March 1994 following redevelopment of the old Government Stadium. Primarily used for football, the venue also hosts the Hong Kong leg of the Rugby Sevens World Series – considered by many as the highlight of the city's sporting calendar.

In continental football, Hong Kong Stadium hosted the final of the 1998 Asian Club Championship between Korea Republic’s Pohang Steelers and China PR’s Dalian Wanda and the 2009 AFC Cup semi-final between local side South China AA and eventual winners Kuwait SC. Later that year it staged the East Asian Games football final as the hosts edged out Japan on penalties to win the gold medal.

Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground

Located in Hong Kong's New Territories, Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground is a multi-purpose complex that was inaugurated in May 2009 ahead of the East Asian Games later that year, when it hosted the opening ceremony as well as track and field events.

In football, the stadium has been used as the home ground by various Hong Kong Premier League sides over the years. Perhaps most notably, it was the venue where Chan Yuen-ting created history by becoming the first woman to guide a men's team to a top-flight title after Eastern's 2-1 win over South China on April 22, 2016 sealed the Hong Kong Premier League title.

The Group in Context

Group J of the 2021 AFC Cup will feature three newcomers with Eastern Long Lions the only side to have appeared in the competition previously, back in 2009 when they were eliminated at the group stage.

Sides from Hong Kong have, though, been regulars in the AFC Cup over the years, with Sun Hei SC (2005), South China (2009) and Kitchee SC (2014) all having reached the semi-finals.

While Eastern's 2009 appearance remains their only time in the AFC Cup, they have also featured in the AFC Champions League when, in 2017, they became the first side from Hong Kong to earn a point in the competition following a 1-1 draw with J1 League giants Kawasaki Frontale.

Lee Man, meanwhile, were only founded in 2017 so are the youngest side in the East Zone, although they have already tasted glory by winning the 2018-19 Hong Kong Sapling Cup.

Tainan City become only the second side from Chinese Taipei to appear in the competition after Hang Yuan FC were part of the 2018 and 2019 editions. Champions of their country for the first time in 2020, they are also aiming to claim a first AFC Cup victory for Chinese Taipei.

Founded in 2016, Athletic 220 will become the second side from Mongolia to be part of the group stage after Erchim FC debuted in 2017. Having won the Mongolian Premier League in 2020, they will look to create more history by picking up their country's first points in the continental competition.

Key Men

Everton Camargo – Eastern Long Lions

The 30-year-old Brazilian is likely to be Eastern's main source of goals and, while he didn't have as fine a campaign as he did in the 2019-20 season when he was named Hong Kong Premier League Player of the Year, the six-footer remains a potent force in the front line.

Having completed his sixth season in Hong Kong, Camargo previously won the Senior Shield and FA Cup with Eastern, adding to the Senior Shield he won with previous club Yuen Long, and the exciting forward will be hoping for more success on the continental stage.

Ngan Lok-fung – Lee Man

Despite midfielder Ngan Lok-fung's entering his 11th year as a professional in 2021, it's fair to say that this season has been a standout for the 28-year-old. Not only was the swashbuckling skipper named in the Hong Kong Premier League's Best XI after leading his side to an impressive third-place finish, but he also picked up goal of the season with a stunning strike.

Ngan's efforts were recognised internationally too, with the former Kitchee SC player selected for the Hong Kong side for the recent Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023, a return to the fold after an extended absence.

Marco Fenelus – Tainan City

Among the most dominant forwards the Chinese Taipei Premier League has seen since he joined Tatung FC in 2015, Turks & Caicos striker Marco Fenelus turned heads when he joined Tainan City ahead of the 2020 season.

The reigning MVP joined an ambitious side that linked Fenelus up with the 2019 season's top scorer Benchy Estama and hitman Ange Samuel to create a fearsome frontline that would fire the southern city club to their first title and end the reign of Fenelus' former side.

Monkh-Erdene Enkhtaivan – Athletic 220

Of the four key players highlighted from AFC Cup Group J, it's Athletic 220 goalkeeper Monk-Erdene Enkhtaivan who could well be coming into the continental competition on the biggest high after he helped his nation make history at the the recent Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.

The custodian helped Mongolia keep a cleansheet against Kyrgyz Republic – a team almost 100 places higher in the FIFA World Rankings – in their famous 1-0 victory in Osaka on June 7. The 25-year-old will be now hoping to make more milestones for his side in Asia's club scene.

Poll ends at 18:00 (UTC+8) on June 25.

Photos: AFC, Hong Kong Football Association

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