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Friday, May 19, 2017, 15:20
Four teams reach for ACL dream
By Tobias Zuser
Friday, May 19, 2017, 15:20 By Tobias Zuser

Kitchee won again the treble this season (championship, Senior Shield, FA Cup). (Photo courtesy of HKFA.com)

Last weekend, new champions Kitchee won the treble, after beating South China 2-1 in the FA Cup final. Back in January, they had already collected the prestigious Senior Shield trophy, making this season as successful as the one two years ago, when they also won the treble.

However, compared to the last match day against Eastern, the FA Cup final was a much bigger challenge for Kitchee. South China counted on physical play to interrupt the match plan of their opponents, starting with Nikola Komazec and Yusuke Kato in the attack. Still, it was Kitchee who took the lead with goals from Lam Zhi-gin and the league’s top-scorer Sandro. In the 69th minute 37-year-old Chu Siu-kei pulled one back, and South China even had a promising chance to equalize if not for a questionable offside call, which infuriated bench and stands. However, at the end of the day, the Caroliners were not able to outplay the Kitchee defence again, who only conceded eight goals in 20 league games.

A few days after the FA Cup win, Kitchee continued with their silverware collection at the HKFA Top Footballer Awards, with left-winger Fernande alone claiming the “Footballer of the Year”, “Most Favourite Player”, and “Players’ Player of the Year” trophies for himself. Kitchee coach Alex Chu Chi-kwong was awarded “Coach of the Year”, and although Sandro became the top-scorer of the Hong Kong Premier League with 24 goals across all competitions, Yuto Nakamura (Tai Po) got the trophy for the “Goal of the Season” for his long-range free-kick against Yuen Long. Tribute was also paid to Tai Po’s Tan Chun-lok and Eastern’s Wong Tsz-ho, who were named “Young Players of the Year”.

However, while the season is basically over for Kitchee, four more teams are still battling for the remaining spot in the Asian Champions League qualifiers in the so-called season playoff. It will be the last time that the playoff will be used to decide this allocation. Starting from next year, the second spot will go directly to the FA Cup winners (or league runners-up).

The last 'Battle of the Buses' ended in a 0-0 draw. (Photo courtesy of HKFA.com)

SOUTH CHINA v EASTERN, Season Play-off, Mong Kok Stadium, May 20, 3:00 pm

Both South China and Eastern have had a very disappointing season, failing to claim any silverware, so there is a lot at stake for them at the playoff. Although the Caroliners have just lost to Kitchee in the FA Cup final, their form over the last few weeks has steadily improved and they finally seemed to have come together as a team. Arguably, they don’t have the best squad at their disposal, but coach Dejan Antonic managed to compensate this weakness with a very physical play, which also saw South China eliminating Eastern from the FA Cup semi-finals. Hence, captain Bojan Malisic and his teammates will try to repeat this achievement again this weekend.
After a long and tiring season, Eastern had finally a few days to rest after playing their last ACL group game in Japan on 9 May, losing 5-0 to Kawasaki Frontale. In their last league game against South China, the Blues came out on top in a terrific game, which ended 4-3, with two goals from defensive midfielder Bai He. On paper, Eastern still have the stronger squad and they should have enough motivation to end the season on conciliatory terms. A win could do just that.

The last 'Battle of the Buses' ended in a 0-0 draw. (Photo courtesy of HKFA.com)

YUEN LONG v SOUTHERN, Season Play-off, Mong Kok Stadium, May 21, 3:00 pm

On Sunday, two district teams will fight for glory in the other playoff semi-final. Dubbed the “Battle of the Buses”, as Yuen Long are sponsored by KMB and Southern by Kwoon Chung, spectators are promised a game at eye-level. Their previous league meetings ended in two draws, but this time there will be extra time and penalties to determine the winners. Southern can already look back on a terrific season, finishing third in the league and being the only team to beat Kitchee throughout the season. Yuen Long, on the other hand, had a great start, but struggled in recent weeks. However, the Tangerines eventually managed to secure the fifth place, especially thanks to coach Tsang Chiu-tat, who has shown incredible talent in his debut season.

The winners of each fixture will meet for the final on 27 May at Mong Kok Stadium. While league champions Kitchee have already directly qualified for the 2018 Asian Champions League group stage, the playoff winners will start in the second of three qualifying rounds. 

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