Published: 15:10, May 26, 2021 | Updated: 01:01, May 27, 2021
Kitchee crown themselves champions once again
By Tobias Zuser

Kitchee won their 11th topflight title - including five Premier League trophies (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

Seven thousand eight hundred and two people showed up on Sunday afternoon, May 23, at Hong Kong Stadium to witness the long-anticipated showdown between Kitchee and Eastern for this year’s Premier League trophy. But in the end, it was a rather one-sided affair. Striker Dejan Damjanovic scored twice for a well-deserved 2-0 victory, helping Kitchee to defend the championship and securing their eleventh top tier title. 

On what was apparently the hottest day in May on record, both sides started surprisingly energetic into the game despite the sweltering heat of up to 36 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, the Hong Kong Football Association had decided to move the kickoff to 4 pm, and by that time most part of the pitch was already in the shadow of the stadium’s towering spectator stands. Team managers Alex Chu and Lee Chi-kin did not take any chances and fielded their strongest available starting elevens. However, the absence of injured Eastern center-back Eduardo Praes may have come at a heavy price after all. 

Eastern did have the better start nonetheless, with Lucas Silva threatening goalkeeper Paulo Cesar on a few occasions, and Sandro lurking for his chance to pierce the defense. However, after around 20 minutes the game started slowing down, although the temperature may be partly to blame for this instead of tactics. When Eastern were already thinking about the air-conditioned dressing rooms in the dying minutes of the first half, it was 39-year-old Dejan Damjanovic who put all his footballing experience at full display. In a quick counterattack, the Montenegrin striker started from his own half, hence neutralizing the offside rule, with Eastern defenders helplessly chasing after the dangerman, who made no mistake in getting the ball past Yapp Hung-fai for the 1-0 lead, which was promptly followed by the half time whistle. 

Knowing that a draw would be enough to secure the title win, Kitchee found themselves now in a commanding position with a comfortable lead, and with this confidence they sat back and frustrated Eastern’s attacking line, which on that day seemed a bit overwhelmed with the task at hand. Even Brazilian striker Everton Camargo could not change the course of events in his first match for Eastern after his injury. In the 71st minute, Dejan Damjanovic – once again – found the back of the net, and with it smashing all the hope for a late Eastern comeback, who would have needed three goals by then, but still struggled to seriously threaten the well-organized defense.  

With the final whistle blown, the 2-0 win for Kitchee still marked a rather satisfying end to a difficult Premier League season, which eventually managed to return to normalcy after several months of uncertainty. 

Dejan Damjanovic was the hero of the day scoring both goals for Kitchee. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

Later on Sunday, Lee Man and Pegasus locked horns at Mong Kok Stadium to decide the third place in the final ranking. In front of more than 1,600 people, the Bees completed their flawless run in the championship group, winning all their three games, including the encounters with champions Kitchee and runners-up Eastern. Lee Man took an early lead in the 17th minute, with Wong Chun-ho kicking off a goal festival that ended in a 5-1 win, featuring a hat-trick by Gil. However, Lee Man’s last-minute streak was not enough to close the gap in the table, as they finish the season four points behind Eastern and seven points behind Kitchee. 

The latest honor for Kitchee is also the club’s eleventh top-tier championship, five of which were achieved during the seven-year Premier League era, which was inaugurated in 2014. Only South China have won more titles, a total of 41, with the latest one already dating back to the 2012/13 season. 

Given the current regulations of the Asian Football Confederation, Kitchee are allowed to participate in the qualifying play-off of the 2022 AFC Champions League. However, if DPR Korea would once again withdraw from the competition, the Hong Kong champions may still have the chance to get a direct spot in the group stage, the same as this year. In the meantime, Eastern and possibly Lee Man will have the chance to participate in the 2022 AFC Cup. Their exact entry point in the competition will depend on Kitchee’s ability to qualify for the ACL group stage. 

While the championship has already been decided, the topflight season will only come to an official end on Sunday, 30 May, when the four clubs in the relegation group meet one last time. Given the tight race, the Hong Kong Football Association decided to let the games be played simultaneously at two different sports grounds. 

Lee Man finished the season on a high with a 5-1 win over Pegasus. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

RANGERS v HAPPY VALLEY, Premier League (Relegation Group), Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground, Sun 30 May, 5:30 pm 

Following the results last weekend, the relegation group is still very much in contention. Sothern are currently leading the pack, but Rangers are just one point behind and could leapfrog the Aberdeeners if things go their way. However, Happy Valley have also not given up yet, with the squad showing tremendous team spirit last weekend, beating Resources Capital 7-2, despite trailing their opponents 1-2 after 45 minutes. If Valley can salvage more points than ResCap, they could still avoid finishing bottom of the table. Besides a hat-trick by Luciano, Rasaq Adegbite scored his first goal of the season and former Manchester United youth player Charlie Scott also added his name to the scoresheet in the 92nd minute. However, the Greens will need a similarly strong performance – and any complacence could be disastrous. 

SOUTHERN vs RESOURCES CAPITAL, Premier League (Relegation Group), Mong Kok Stadium, Sun 30 May, 5:30 pm

Compared to the other match-up, where both teams also rely on the result at Mong Kok Stadium, Southern and Resources Capital actually have it completely in their own hands. If the Aberdeeners bag three points, they will win the relegation group and reap the HK$200,000 cash prize. If Resources Capital defeat their opponents, they will pass the red lantern to Happy Valley, no matter the final outcome of the parallel game.