With no domestic competition due to the Chinese New Year holiday, last season’s HKFA First Division Champions, South China, started their campaign in Singapore as the first Hong Kong team to play in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.
Meanwhile the Lunar New Year AET Cup 2014 showcased an invitational international tournament where Citizen Cuenca United won the Final.
AFC Champions League
South China travelled to Singapore to take on local side Tampines Rovers in the first qualifying stage of the preliminary round of the AFC Champions League on Sunday night (Feb 2). Although, South China eventually prevailed over hosts Tampines Rovers 2-1, they made hard work of it after the opponents were reduced to nine men in a game that went to extra time.
South China’s recent recruit Andrew Barisic opened the scoring in the 20th minute when he side footed in Lee Wai-lim’s cross from close range.
Tampines Rovers were reduced to 10 men in the 35th minute when midfielder Imran Sahib was sent off after committing his second yellow card offence.
Despite this, South China could not find another goal in the first half against a side yet to begin its new league season. Accordingly, South China took that 1-nil into the half-time break.
Tampines Rovers equalised in the 64th minute through Miljan Mrdakovic and, with South China still unable to take advantage of the extra man, forced the game into extra time.
Tampines Rovers again lost a player and were reduced to nine men after a second red card.
This left it open for Andrew Barisic to eventually score the winner for South China in the 113th minute.
The result means that South China will travel to Bangkok, Thailand, next Saturday (Feb 8) where they will play local side Chonburi in the next qualifying stage of the preliminary play offs. The winners of that game will play China Super League side Beijing Guoan in the final play-off match where the winner will reach the main competition of the region’s top championship—the group qualifying stage of the AFC Champions League.
Whichever team gets to this stage will find themselves placed in groups where they will meet teams from the top leagues in the Asian region, such as: the Australian A-League; Chinese Super League; Japanese J-League; Korean K-League; and competitions from the Middle Eastern countries.
Lunar New Year AET Cup 2014
With local competition suspended due to the Lunar New Year holiday, the action switched to the Hong Kong Government stadium for the annual Lunar New Year AET Cup 2014 featuring: Japanese side FC Tokyo; Portuguese side Sporting Clube Olhanense; Russian side PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara FC; and Citizen Cuenca United, a joint team that included players from HKFA First Division side Citizen supported by players from Ecuadoran side Cuenca.
In Friday’s (Jan 31) initial games to decide the teams playing in the Final and third place playoff, both ended in draws, requiring deciders by penalty kicks with no extra time being played.
In the first game, despite appearing to be on top for long periods, FC Tokyo were pulled back to be held to a 1-all draw with SC Olhanense—who went on to win on penalties and secure a berth in the Final.
In the other game featuring Citizen Cuenca United and PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara, the pre-tournament favourites Samara looked to be cruising to a win after adding a second-half second goal to their first-half penalty.
However, with only one minute of normal time remaining and leading 2-nil, a Citizen Cuenca United player crossed a ball from the right-hand touchline towards the edge of the Samara penalty box; and there, centre forward Detinho, controlled the cross on his chest, volleyed with his left-foot past the stranded goalkeeper and into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Then, in added time, Citizen Cuenca United were awarded a free kick 15 yards outside the centre of the Samara penalty box. From the resulting kick, which was directed straight at the goal by Marko Krasic, the ball received a deflection that diverted the ball past the sprawling goalkeeper into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal.
The subsequent penalty shoot out was won 4-2 by a delighted Citizen Cuenca United team and left the Samara players dejected.
Citizen Cuenca United had secured a place in the Final against SC Olhanense; while Samara were left to battle it out with FC Tokyo for third place.
In the third playoff game on Monday (Feb 2), the fairly lacklustre game was settled in the 46th minute with Samara coming away winners.
A long ball forward towards the edge of the box, by Ivan Taramov, was headed by the Samara centre forward, Luis Callabero, behind the two FC Tokyo centre backs. This allowed Ruslan Adzhindhal to apply a right-foot finish—he fired the ball past the FC Tokyo goalkeeper, Hitoshi Shiota, and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Citizen Cuenca United win Final
In the Final at 5pm, a far more lively game ensued between the mixed Citizen Cuenca United side and SC Olhanense, where more of an end-to-end game ensued.
Citizen Cuenca United took the lead in the 16th minute, when centre back Festus Baise hit a long ball from midway in the right-hand side of his own box towards a spot just outside the SC Olhanense box—just inside the right-hand edge of the penalty box. Sham Kwok-Keung had eluded the SC Olhanense defenders, he let the ball bounce once into the penalty box and expertly lifted the ball over the advancing goalkeeper and into the empty net.
Shortly after, Sham Kwok-Keung and Yuto Nakamura were released on a quick break that left them outnumbering the sole SC Olhanense defender as they raced towards the goal looking for a second to extend their lead. With Sham Kwok-Keung more or less in line with the 6 yard box and Nakamura in the centre of the goal, the defender was caught in two minds as to which to mark. However, Sham Kwok-Keung advanced with the ball and shot high and over the bar from 15 yards when a short square pass inside to Nakamura would have ended with a much simpler chance to score a decisive second.
Following that missed chance, Citizen Cuenca United led 1-nil at half-time.
Citizen Cuenca United settled the game in the second half after Yuto Nakamura was pulled down just outside the 6 yard box near the byeline resulting in a penalty. Marko Krasic stepped up and hit the penalty low to the goalkeeper’s right where he saved and parried the goal-bound shot. The first to the blocked ball was Citizen Cuenca United’s Nakamura, who found that his shot was again blocked by the goalkeeper, only for it to loop up at head height at the far post, where an enthusiastic Krasic was the first to react and nod the ball home from a yard out.
Citizen Cuenca United then held out until the final whistle where they were presented with the Lunar New Year AET Cup 2014 trophy and the winner’s US$80,000 (HK$620,000) cheque.