Tai Po qualify for the AFC Cup group stage for the second time in club history. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
On Wednesday night, 13 March, Tai Po qualified for the AFC Cup for only the second time in club history. After a nil-nil draw in Pyongyang against Ryomyong SC of DPRK on March, the return leg turned into another thriller with neither team being able to score. Following a tight schedule of four games in 13 days, the hosts looked rather tired and failed to capitalize on their strong attacking line-up. Striker Sandro also did not look at the top of his game, having just returned from an influenza infection. Nonetheless, the home advantage eventually paid off in the penalty shootout, in which all Tai Po players remained flawless, while goalkeeper Tsang Man-fai saved the very first attempt of the guests. Eventually, the Hong Kong club qualified for the AFC Cup group stage with a total score of 5-3. They will join Kitchee (Hong Kong), April 25 (DPRK), and Hang Yuen (Chinese Taipei) in Group I of the tournament. The campaign kicks off on April 3, with Kitchee and Tai Po locking horns at Mong Kok Stadium for a domestic derby on the continental stage.
For now, however, both clubs will try to focus on the championship this weekend. Since the establishment of the Hong Kong Premier League in 2014, there has never been a closer title race than this year. With only five rounds remaining, the top four teams in the table are just separated by three points. R&F are still leading the pack, followed by Tai Po, Southern, and Kitchee. This means that the coming weeks will promise an exciting season finish, as the clear favorites have yet to emerge.
R&F vs KITCHEE, Premier League, Yanzigang Stadium, Sat March 16, 2:30 pm
The 14th round of the Hong Kong Premier League season starts with a true bang. R&F, who are still on top of the table by just one point, will host reigning champions Kitchee, who have fought their way back into the mix in recent weeks. The Bluewaves are currently fourth, but a win could let them draw level with R&F and put them in a promising position to defend the title. Kitchee have muted their critics, particularly after thrashing Dreams 6-0 in a convincing victory last weekend. Midfielder Yuto Nakamura, who has been injured since the end of December, made his long-awaited comeback and immediately put his name back on the scoresheet. That all said, R&F have already beaten Kitchee earlier this season, and coach Yeung Ching-kwong will try to repeat just that. In the case of a draw, the biggest beneficiaries would be Southern or Tai Po, who could put themselves on top with wins in their respective games on the same afternoon.
Kitchee found their way back on track and thrashed Dreams 6-0 last weekend. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
SOUTHERN vs DREAMS, Premier League, Aberdeen Sports Ground, Sat March 16, 2:30 pm
In what was probably one of the best games of the season so far, Southern held league leaders R&F to a 3-3 draw last weekend, after having conceded two goals within the first eight minutes of the game. However, Serbian striker Nikola Komazec brought the Aberdeeners back into the game with a brace. Eventually, it was center-back Lau Hok-ming who scored the late equalizer in the 92nd minute, keeping R&F from increasing their lead in the table. Given the current form, it would be a surprise if Southern find themselves stumbling over Dreams, who had just been thrashed 0-6 by Kitchee last weekend. They might show more resistance this time, but will need more of a miracle to win points against a promising title contender like Southern.
PEGASUS vs TAI PO, Premier League, Mong Kok Stadium, Sat March 16, 5:30 pm
On Saturday evening, Pegasus will host runners-up Tai Po in Mong Kok, the same place where the Greens secured their AFC Cup ticket on Wednesday with a win over DPRK side Ryomyong SC in a lengthy game that went all the way to a penalty shootout. The Flying Horsemen may hope that the demanding fixture schedule of their opponents could bring about fatigue. However, Tai Po have been marching through this season so far. Their last and only defeat in the league already dates to October 2018, when they lost to district rivals Southern 0-1. Since then, they remained unbeaten and should have the capability to continue their run against Pegasus. For the latter, the league title may already be out of reach, but there are still two cup competitions left to save their season.
Southern held league leaders R&F to a 3-3 draw. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)
HOI KING vs EASTERN, Premier League, Sham Shui Po Sports Ground, Sun March 17, 2:30 pm
On Sunday, Hoi King will take on Eastern at Sham Shui Po Sports Ground, which will be yet another desperate fight for survival. The Kingsmen fought bravely last weekend, but were once again left heartbroken when Yuen Long captain Fabio Lopes scored the match winner in the 89th minute. For Eastern, the remainder of the season is only about an honorable ending of a disappointing campaign. They have been eliminated from all remaining cup competitions, and their chances of silverware in the league are only theoretical at best. That said, they should have the quality in their squad to overcome bottom-of-the-table Hoi King.
YUEN LONG vs LEE MAN, Premier League, Yuen Long Stadium, Sun March 17, 5:30 pm
This Premier League round is once again completed in Yuen Long, where the Tangerines host Lee Man in an interesting encounter between the seventh and ninth in the league. Yuen Long have just beaten Hoi King 2-1 and with three points this weekend they are guaranteed to stay in the Premier League. Last Sunday, newly signed striker Chuck Yiu-kwok made his debut in the second half and may add some more striking power in the coming weeks. For Lee Man, the situation is a bit gloomier. The Bees suffered another defeat against Tai Po last weekend, and every round without a point drags their relegation fight on. For now, they are just two points above Hoi King.
HONG KONG NEWS