Hong Kong's Kitchee march on to AFC Champions League knockout round for first time with dramatic injury-time equaliser

A dramatic 91st-minute equaliser saw Kitchee earn a 2-2 draw with Vissel Kobe on Sunday and book their place in the AFC Champions League knockout round for the first time ever. Pakawich Damrongkiattisak/Getty Images

Kitchee have secured a landmark first-ever appearance by a Hong Kong club in the AFC Champions League knockout round in dramatic fashion, after a 91st-minute equaliser secured a 2-2 draw with Vissel Kobe that was enough to see them advance into the last-16.

Heading into the final Group J tie aware that they had to avoid defeat in order to make history, Kitchee fell behind a minute before halftime when Lincoln converted from the spot after being felled inside the area by Raul Baena.

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Just moments later, Vissel conceded a penalty of their own when Leo Osaki was penalised for handball in unfortunate circumstances after the ball had ricocheted off teammate Tomoaki Makino and into his arm -- paving the way for tournament record scorer Dejan Damjanovic to level the scores.

Having done enough to keep Vissel at bay for much of the second 45, Kitchee then looked to have been hit by a sucker punch in the 87th minute when Yoshinori Muto was somehow left completely unmarked inside the area to head home a Shion Inoue corner and restore his side's advantage.

At this stage, Kitchee were on course to suffer heartbreak for the second season running, having also missed out on the Round of 16 by goal difference in 2021.

But there was still time for one final twist of the tale and, in the first minute of injury-time, Baena made amends for conceding the earlier penalty as he showed greatest determination of everyone in the area to meet Cleiton's corner with a daring run at the near post and send a bullet header in at Daiya Maekawa's near post.

The draw ensured that Kitchee would finish on seven points from four games and maintain their status as one of the East Zone's three best-performing runners-up that advance into the knockout stage with the five group winners.

Over in Group H, a 1-1 draw between Yokohama F. Marinos and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors secured the former's progress with the latter having already secured their Round-of-16 berth ahead of their final match, while Hoang Anh Gia Lai finished their campaign on a high with an impressive 1-0 win over seasoned campaigners Sydney FC.

In a game that saw the Vietnamese outfit look the better of the two sides throughout, Washington Brandao popped up with a neat improvised finish in the 39th minute to hand HAGL their first win in the tournament in 18 years.