Yuen Long suffered a 0-3 defeat to Kitchee earlier this season. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)
While most football leagues around the world will take a break over the Christmas and New Year holidays, the ‘beautiful game’ traditionally continues in Hong Kong. On Christmas Eve, 24 December, and Christmas Day, 25 December, four domestic Premier League teams face each other in the Senior Shield semi-finals, in what will be the 116th edition of the oldest inter-club competition in Asia.
But this is not all of the football waiting for spectators this weekend. There is also plenty of action in Hong Kong’s lower league amateur divisions, with the clubs of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Division all participating in a junior version of the FA Cup. Given their recent performances, the biggest chance to win that trophy rests with no one else than the Hong Kong Football Club, who will take on Kwong Wah Athletic Association on 23 December at the Happy Valley Recreation Ground. Established in 1936, Kwong Wah are among the oldest Chinese clubs in Hong Kong, but will have a hard time to defeat the leaders of the First Division. The Sha Tin district team is going to take on another traditional Hong Kong side on Christmas Eve: Happy Valley. The Greens are currently in the 2nd Division and on track to be promoted to the 1st Division by the end of the season. However, most people will keep their eyes on another FA Cup fixture this weekend, when self-demoted South China take on Lung Moon at Kwong Fuk Park in Tai Po on 24 December, 1.30 pm.
While these lower division games will hardly be spectator magnets over the Christmas period, the Senior Shield semi-finals traditionally draw a large number of football fans to Mong Kok Stadium.
KITCHEE v YUEN LONG, Senior Shield, Mong Kok Stadium, Dec 24, 3:00 pm
The first Senior Shield semi-final will take place on Christmas Eve between reigning champions Kitchee and the Yuen Long district team. Both clubs have experienced very different seasons so far: The Bluewaves have fulfilled expectations and dominated throughout all competitions. They remain undefeated since January 2017 and are more than keen to repeat their treble from last year. Therefore, the Senior Shield title will be a crucial part of achieving this task. However, Kitchee will also be without their midfield engine Krisztian Vadocz. The 32-year-old Hungarian, who has earned 40 international caps from his national team, has been awarded with a red card in his latest Sapling Cup outing against R&F and will at least miss this semi-final. Coincidentally, Vadocz earlier scored the only goal in his team’s 1-0 victory. Nonetheless, Kitchee will not have much trouble to compensate for his absence, as their squad depth gives coach Alex Chu plenty of other options, most likely in the form of Lam Ka Wai or Matthew Lam.
In contrast, Yuen Long will only have humble expectations for this match. The Tangerines have had a difficult season and are currently only second from bottom in the league and will probably be – once again – engaged in the relegation fight. Most of all, 28-year-old head coach Tsang Chiu-tat will have to find new recipes for both attack and defense. In eight league games, Yuen Long scored only six goals, while conceding 16. Newly signed Everton Camargo has only scored once in the league thus far, but his goal in the Senior Shield quarter final against Tai Po was a decisive one and he could pose some threat to the Kitchee defenders. Nonetheless, it would be more of a Christmas miracle if Yuen Long could really cause an upset that day.
Eastern came out as narrow winners in a hot-tempered match against Southern on 17 November. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA.COM)
SOUTHERN v EASTERN, Senior Shield, Mong Kok Stadium, Dec 25, 3:00 pm
The latest encounter between Southern and Eastern in the Hong Kong Premier League was an emotional and hot-tempered affair, which the Aberdeeners finished with only nine men and two red cards. The Blues got away with a narrow 1-0 victory in the end, so Southern are keen to take revenge, and there is probably no better opportunity than the Senior Shield. In 2016, both clubs met each other in the final of the same competition, with Eastern winning the game 2-0. But this time the odds are almost even. Both sides have had disappointing starts into the season. Currently, Eastern are fifth in the league, with nine points in seven games, followed by Southern on sixth. Already 13 points behind top-of-the-table Kitchee, the title race for them is basically over and the Senior Shield might be one of the last opportunities to get some much-needed silverware this season. Last weekend, Eastern shared points with Lee Man in the Sapling Cup, with neither side being able to score.
Strangely, Southern are still facing some late repercussions for their previous league game. The disciplinary committee of the Hong Kong Football Association decided to ban Spanish striker Marcos de la Espada for an additional game, after he had been found guilty for violent misconduct in retrospective. Meanwhile, coach Ricky Cheng criticized this decision on social media. This means, the Aberdeeners will be once again without their most productive forward, who has already scored seven goals across all competitions this season. If that is not enough, Southern have also been struggling with several injured players, such as Carles Martinez and Carlos Rodriguez, whose exact return dates are not yet confirmed.
The remaining six Premier League clubs will have a short Christmas break this weekend, before domestic action continues again. On 28 December, Eastern and Dreams will face each other in a rescheduled Premier League match at Mong Kok Stadium. Eventually, the year of 2017 will end with the preliminary round of the FA Cup. The semi-finalists of last year’s FA Cup are seeded and will automatically advance to the quarter-finals. The rest of the fixtures have been decided by draw, with four teams being selected to play an additional play-off. On 30 December, R&F will take on Yuen Long and on New Year’s Eve, 31 December, Lee Man will face Dreams.