Kitchee are the champions of the 2016-17 Hong Kong Premier League. (Photo courtesy of HKFA.com)
On Saturday, 6 May, Kitchee crushed Eastern 4-1 in the last and decisive game of the season. The two teams, who dominated the league all year round, faced each other in a sold-out Mong Kok Stadium, which was the first time in almost ten years that a local league fixture was played in front of nearly 6,500 people.
Just nine minutes into the game, Kitchee opened the scoresheet, when Sandro headed the ball home from close range. Alex Chu’s men dominated the game right from the start and played once again in a 3-4-3 formation that fully accentuated the strength of the current squad. At the same time, Eastern failed to create any danger up front. After conceding the first goal, Chan Yuen-ting reacted quickly and replaced Lee Hong-lim with Michel Lugo, but Kitchee remained the stronger side. Still, their second goal was not without controversy. Eastern defender Josh Mitchell went down in the box, after he had been knocked out in an aerial duel, but the referee let the game continue and a few moments later, Sandro scored his second for the day.
Eastern needed at least a draw to claim the title for themselves, hence, they had to put all their eggs in one basket. With Giovane da Silva, Manuel Bleda, Michel Lugo, and Jaimes McKee, they put their hopes on four attackers, but just two minutes later Hungarian midfielder Krisztian Vadocz sealed the fate by scoring the third goal for Kitchee. Eastern’s Lugo managed to pull one back with a beautiful long-range shot, but it was too little too late. When Sandro scored his third of the day, in the 77th minute, there was no doubt left: Kitchee were the 2016/17 Hong Kong Premier League champions, finishing two points ahead of their arch-rivals Eastern.
Eastern were not able to stop Kitchee on the way to their eighth league title. (Photo courtesy of HKFA.com)
After winning the Senior Shield trophy in January and the league in May, Kitchee are now aiming for the treble when they take on South China in the FA Cup final on 14 May – again at Mong Kok Stadium, but probably in front of a smaller audience. For Eastern, on the other hand, the season tally is more than disappointing. With no silverware and a rather traumatic debut in the Asian Champions League, the Blues are definitely expected to make crucial changes over the summer to increase their squad depth and be once again a title contender for next season. Meanwhile, Eastern still have to play their last ACL game.
Right after the crushing defeat in the league, Eastern left Hong Kong for Japan, where they take on Kawasaki Frontale on Tuesday, 9 May. Local fans still have fond memories of when these two sides met last time. Back in March, Eastern made history by holding the J-League team to a 1-1 draw at Mong Kok Stadium – marking Hong Kong’s first ACL point as well as the first ACL goal. Chan Yuen-ting will hope for a similar result this Tuesday, although the task will be much more difficult. While Eastern have nothing to play for anymore, Kawasaki are under pressure, as they are still competing for the runners-up position. On Monday Chan was welcomed by Japanese fans who admired her extraordinary achievement as first female coach in the ACL.
No matter what’s the result, Hong Kong will once again take part in Asia’s top-tier tournament in 2018. As Premier League champions, Kitchee will start in the ACL group stage, while Eastern still have to compete with three other local teams – Southern, South China, and Yuen Long – for the remaining ticket to the ACL qualifiers.