Shandong Luneng win the Lunar New Year Cup in their first tournament appearance. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng are the winners of this year’s Lunar New Year Cup, after beating Fernando Torres’ Sagan Tosu 3-1 in the final on 7 Feb. In a hard-fought match, the J League club had more of the match in terms of possession, but it was efficiency that prevailed that night. Shandong took an early lead, with Brazilian defender Gil scoring in the 3rd minute of the game. Graziano Pellè added another goal at the beginning of the second half, before Fernando Torres pulled one back to give fans of Sagan Tosu some hope for a comeback. But this was shattered in the 81st minute, when Shandong’s Pedro Delgado made it 3-1 for his team. Luneng had previously beaten Auckland City 2-1 on Tuesday afternoon to reach the final of the Lunar New Year Cup, marking the club’s first win of the prestigious trophy in their first appearance.
In the match for 3rd place earlier that day, the Hong Kong League XI defeated Auckland City 1-0, with Pegasus’ Mahama Awal scoring the decisive goal. However, hero of the day was Pegasus’ 36-year-old reserve goalkeeper Zhang Chunhui, who not only kept a clean sheet, but also saved a penalty. The Hong Kong XI proved themselves worthy of the competition, losing to Sagan Tosu only on penalties on the first day, following a 1-1 draw within regular time.
With more than 35,000 spectators visiting the Lunar New Year Cup over the course of two days, it was proven that the tradition to start the new year with a football tournament is one to be cherished.
The Hong Kong League XI mainly consisted of Pegasus players. (PHOTO COURTESY OF PEGASUS)
Meanwhile, champions Kitchee are in preparation for the Asian Champions League qualifying match. On 12 Feb they have to take on Malaysian club Perak away. If successful, Kitchee would then have to travel to South Korea one week later for a decisive play-off match against Ulsan Hyundai. As expected, the Bluewaves have already nominated their four foreign aids for the tournament, including striker Lucas Silva, winger Fernando, midfielder Krisztian Vadocz, and centre-back Matt Smith.
For the other Hong Kong Premier League clubs the action starts a bit sooner, as the Sapling Cup returns this weekend with four matches lined up on Sunday and Monday. With only two more rounds left in the group stage, the fight for the four spots in the semi-finals is getting more serious.
Shandong Luneng beat Sagan Tosu 3-1 in the Lunar New Year Cup. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
HOI KING vs LEE MAN, Sapling Cup, Hammer Hill Road Sports Ground, Sun 10 Feb, 2:30 pm
For both Hoi King and Lee Man the Sapling Cup competition very much mirrors their league campaigns for now. The Kingsmen are at the bottom of Group B, having conceded nine goals in the previous two games. Lee Man sitting on fourth above, however, still have a realistic chance to reach the semi-finals if results go their way. Nonetheless, they should not take Hoi King lightly, otherwise they could suffer a similar fate as Southern, who underestimated the relegation candidate in the league and succumbed to a well-deserved 0-1 defeat. Two weeks ago, Hoi King were eliminated from the FA Cup by Yuen Long, but their overall performance still showed notable improvements.
YUEN LONG vs TAI PO, Sapling Cup, Yuen Long Stadium, Sun 10 Feb, 5:30 pm
Later that day, there will be another edition of the New Territories derby, which recently ended in a hard-fought 2-2 draw in the league. Following Tai Po’s loss in the Senior Shield final against Kitchee, the club management reacted over the Chinese New Year break and announced a major signing: HKSAR passport holder and representative team striker Sandro signed a 1-year-contract with the Greens ahead of their AFC Cup qualifiers, which are scheduled to take place in early March. The former Kitchee forward previously played for PSM Makassar in Indonesia, scoring four goals in eleven games. This signing should give Tai Po more options up front, and could make their attacking line with Igor Sartori, Harrison Sawyer, and Michel Lugo even more threatening. Tai Po and Yuen Long are currently on third and fourth in Group A of the Sapling Cup, making this encounter very much a six pointer that could put one of them on track for the semi-finals.
Eastern coach Chan Yuen-ting resigned after the club's 2-3 defeat to Yuen Long. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
DREAMS vs EASTERN, Sapling Cup, Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Sun 10 Feb, 8:00 pm
The fixture between Dreams and Eastern is indeed an unusual one, as the latter are currently bottom of Group B, while the first are on top of the table, which is very much a reversal of the current league standings. The Dreamers have experienced a bit of an upwards trend lately, winning two of their last three games and drawing one. Their latest giant-killing came in the FA Cup, where they eliminated title contenders Eastern from the competition. Last weekend, they followed up by beating Premier League leaders R&F 1-0 in the Sapling Cup. For Eastern, the situation is rather bleak. Having only won a single game in their last ten outings, the Blues suffered another painful defeat to Yuen Long last weekend, with serious consequences: They became the first club to be officially eliminated from the Sapling Cup. In addition, Eastern head coach Chan Yuen-ting announced her resignation soon after the match. Wong Chun-yu has taken up the role as interim manager.
PEGASUS vs SOUTHERN, Sapling Cup, Tsing Yi Sports Ground, Mon 11 Feb, 8:00 pm
On Monday night, Pegasus and Southern conclude the fourth and penultimate Sapling Cup group stage round. Most of the Flying Horsemen players have been fully engaged in the Lunar New Year Cup this week, and it is yet to see if they will be fit enough to take on the Aberdeeners. It will be the last match for Pegasus in the group stages, as they will have a by-week in the ultimate Sapling Cup round. This means that a win is a must to decide their own fate in this competition. If Southern bag the three points instead, they would leapfrog Pegasus and claim the top of the table.
HONG KONG NEWS