Champions Eastern face current Sapling Cup holders Pegasus in the semi-finals of the competition. (Photo courtesy of HKFA.com)
After some tantalizing football in the HKPL last week, the Sapling Cup is back and we are now down to the final four. Although last year’s winners Pegasus remain in the competition, some of the bigger names in local football – including Kitchee and South China – have already been eliminated, and there is a real chance for some silverware for one of the smaller clubs if they can find a way into the final. It is certainly all still to play for as the semi-finals get underway this weekend with Pegasus, Eastern, Tai Po and Southern all vying for glory.
PEGASUS vs EASTERN, Sapling Cup, Mong Kok Stadium, Mar 10, 8:00 pm
The current holders of the Sapling Cup, Pegasus, still have a chance to retain after progressing from the last round thanks to a win on penalties against Glory Sky, who they coincidentally beat 2-1 last weekend in the Premier League. They had to work for the victory though, and Kevin Bond will not be approaching this fixture in a buoyant mood after witnessing his side spurn plenty of good chances whilst also looking rather shaky at the back. Macanese international Leong Ka-hang was on hand to score the winner, and along with teammates such as Dhiego Martins and Travis Major, he will be crucial to the squad if the Flying Horsemen are to cause an upset here.
With Eastern having one eye on their home tie against Suwon Bluewings (KOR) in the Champions League next Tuesday, it may not be too much of a surprise to see the Blues struggle somewhat here as they are likely to rest their key players. An injury to top scorer Manuel Bleda Rodriguez is no doubt a huge blow, however, and as such Giovane Da Silva and Miroslav Saric will most likely be the chosen attacking options for this contest as they are ineligible to feature in the ACL. Chan Yuen-ting now has the headache of selecting Bleda’s replacement for the squad to face the K-League outfit, and although they looked solid on Sunday in their 4-0 win over R&F, this could be the perfect time to be facing Eastern with their attentions turned elsewhere.
Tai Po and Southern drew 0-0 the last time the two sides met. (Photo courtesy of HKFA.com)
TAI PO vs SOUTHERN, Sapling Cup, Mong Kok Stadium, Mar 11, 3:00 pm
Tai Po suffered a huge shock in the Premier League last weekend as they were beaten 1-2 at home by relegation favorites Hong Kong FC, and it remains to be seen how this will affect a team that up until that point were running high on confidence. But it would be still very unwise to underestimate a team that contains quality players like Itaparica, Lucas da Silva and Wong Wai, as South China discovered in the last round where they were humiliated in a 5-1 demolition by Lee Chi-kin’s side. Unfortunately, the Greens have found maintaining consistency to be more of a challenge, which could be their downfall in achieving their potential.
Their resolve will further be put to the test against Southern who, despite conceding a late goal to Rangers in their 1-1 draw last Sunday, are unbeaten in seven games. During that time they have conceded a mere three goals, and with this in mind it is hardly surprising that they are the favorites here. Goalkeeper Tse Tak-him is in doubt after an injury forced him off the pitch, and the inexperienced Wong Tsz-him was partly responsible for allowing Rangers to take a share of the spoils. The last two games have seen the Aberdeeners unable to kill games off despite having a superior squad, and they will be eager to cast this image aside as they aim for their first domestic cup title.